Paul Petersen won’t leave his Maricopa County assessor position without a fight — and he’s picked a big one with the county officials who suspended him last month.
Petersen is facing dozens of felony charges across three states related to his private sector job as an adoption attorney. Prosecutors allege that he broke an international treaty as well as state and federal fraud and human smuggling laws when he flew pregnant Marshallese women to the U.S. to give birth and then coordinated their adoptions.
Petersen, a Republican, is also an elected official. He’s served as the Maricopa County assessor since 2013. None of the charges he faces pertain to his work as county assessor.
Still, when news broke of Petersen’s arrest, other county elected officials encouraged him to resign. When he did not, they began meeting with the county attorney to determine whether they could force him out of office.
The Board of Supervisors is the central governing body for the county, but it typically cannot remove other elected officials, like Petersen, from office.
But, the supervisors thought they found a work-around. State law gives the board authority to suspend the assessor for up to 120 days for “neglect of duty.” The supervisors said they believe Petersen’s absence from office while in custody for three weeks, along with details about his performance found through an audit, qualify as neglect of duty.
They’re now facing the wrath of Petersen’s attorney for that decision.
Prominent GOP attorney Kory Langhofer is asking for a slew of documents from the county in hopes of showing that the very elected officials who suspended Petersen may have committed “neglect of duty” themselves.
Supervisors asked to testify
Last week, Petersen appealed his suspension and requested a hearing before the board to argue for a reconsideration, which is permitted under state law.
In the letter appealing the suspension, Langhofer criticized an audit conducted by the county that determined Petersen had used his county computer and phone to conduct personal business.
He suggested the Board of Supervisors open itself up to a similar audit.
In a four-page letter to newly appointed Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel on Tuesday, Langhofer requested that she require all of the county supervisors, Treasurer Royce Flora, Recorder Adrian Fontes, Sheriff Paul Penzone, Chief Deputy Assessor Timothy Boncoskey, Assistant Chief Deputy Assessor Lesley Kratz, county spokesman Fields Moseley, Assistant Maricopa County Attorney Thomas Liddy and Adel to testify at Petersen’s hearing.
He also requested the following records:
- All documents related or referring to Petersen created by the board or County Attorney’s Office between Oct. 9-Nov. 12.
- All communication between or among the board and County Attorney’s Office related or referring to Petersen between Oct. 9-Nov. 12.
- Parking records and other documents that show how frequently the supervisors, Penzone, Fontes, Flora and Adel were in county buildings from Jan. 1-Nov. 12.
- Copies of the hard drives of all computers, cell phones and other county devices issued to the supervisors, Penzone, Fontes, Flora and Adel.
- Copies of policies approved by the board related to the county attorney or county assessor’s offices.
The Arizona Republic had requested the parking logs for all of the same officials on Oct. 30 but has not yet received the records.
Langhofer notes that he’d be willing to forgo the document requests and witness testimony if the board instead agrees to the following as facts:
- The supervisors, Penzone, Fontes, Flora and Adel “typically are physically present in Maricopa County offices or facilities for less than 40 hours per week.”
- The supervisors, Penzone, Fontes, Flora and Adel routinely send or receive emails unrelated to official business or visit internet websites unrelated to official business during work hours.
- The board’s primary reason for suspending Petersen was that he “was alleged to have engaged in certain unlawful conduct in connection with his private law practice.”
- The duties and responsibilities of the assessor’s office “have been adequately and lawfully carried out.”
In a statement last week, Moseley, the county spokesman, said the board respects Petersen’s decision to appeal his suspension and will schedule a meeting “in the near future” for a hearing.
“Board members remain committed to following the law and doing what is in the best interest of the Assessor’s Office and the 4.5 million residents of Maricopa County,” he said.
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