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Ninth Circuit Upholds Enforcement of $975,000 Settlement Against Arpaio

On June 2, 2014, the Ninth Circuit court of appeals upheld the district court's decision to enforce a $975,000 settlement in a civil rights lawsuit brought by a Maricopa County (Arizona) Supervisor and her husband alleging Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, his deputies and the Maricopa County Attorney harassed them.

Mary Rose Wilcox and Earl Wilcox filed a federal 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit alleging violations of their federal civil rights and pendent state law claims. Basically, they alleged defendants wrongfully harasses, investigated and prosecuted them in retaliation for their political opposition to defendants' actions. Many others, including other County Supervisors, filed similar lawsuits. Because more than a hundred people might file similar lawsuits, potentially costing the County hundreds of millions of dollars, and there might be a conflict of interest with the fiscal stewards of the County being claimants against the County, the County established an alternative dispute resolution program for these claims.

County Manager David Smith appointed retired judge Christopher Skelly as the mediator. Skelly settled multiple claims.

Skelly agreed to settle the Wilcoxes' claim for $975,000 and sent a confirmatory email to that effect to their attorney. The County then balked on paying the settlement. The Wilcoxes moved to enforce the settlement.

The Wilcoxes offered two other emails confirming settlements of $500,000 to different claimants who had been paid. They were identical to the one sent to the Wilcoxes except for the names, the amount and a sentence about the settlement being subject to any further approvals deemed necessary by the parties. Smith testified that this sentence referred solely to compliance with a state procedural statute which did not apply to this federal case. The district court ordered enforcement of the settlement and defendants appealed.

The Ninth Circuit overruled defendant's claim that the state mediation privilege statute applied, making the emails and testimony privileged. The court held that federal privilege statutes control, but even the state statute would not have made the emails and testimony privileged and the defendants had not raised an issue of privilege under federal law. Holding that the district court was authorized to enforce the settlement and Smith was authorized to settle the claims, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. The Wilcoxes were represented by Phoenix attorneys Colin F. Campbell and Kathleen Brody O'Meara. See: Wilcox v. Arpaio, 9th Cir., No. 12-16418,_F.3d (9th Cir. 2014).

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Related legal case

Wilcox v. Arpaio