Former La Paz County Public Defender Kathy Field has filed a notice of claim with her former employer demanding $950,000 for wrongful termination.
Field was fired on May 1st, 2017 in a 2-1 decision by the Board of Supervisors. No reason was given publicly for her termination, which Field is now challenging in documents sent to the County by two Prescott-based attorneys representing her. Parker Live obtained the documents Wednesday after making a public records request.
In the documents, Field is described as a “whistleblower” who was attempting to draw the administration’s attention to financial “anomalies” and “discrepancies”. Field says she was fired because “certain County officials were not pleased with [her] reporting” of these issues. The documents also make the point that she was replaced with a younger male, citing age and sex discrimination, and the “convenient” fact that the termination happened during a time when the County was laying off employees in response to budget shortfalls.
Field’s claim cites her issues with a County fund that was supposed to be set aside for indigent defense. During her tenure as Public Defender she had raised questions about how the fund was being used, who was in control of the money and whether it was being put to use for the purposes it was intended. She said the money – an account known as Fund 363 – was being “misappropriated” and that her attempts to address the issue were not welcomed.
“Over a period of years, Ms. Field took extraordinary measures to safeguard the public’s moneys including Fund 363 (the indigent defense fund), in connection with the Public Defender’s Office,” the claim by her lawyers says. “Though her moral obligation compelled her to do so, she also came forward with this information knowing that she was protected by the Employee Handbook and by Arizona Revised Statutes from being the victim of retaliatory conduct. […] Regardless, Ms. Field was fired.”
In addition, the claim talks at length about the process of hiring outside counsel to represent La Paz County defendants, and Field’s assertion that those decisions should have been going through her office. According to her, the Court did not follow procedure in failing to have the cases sent to her, which she says cost the County more money. Her attempts to address this issue were not met with open minds, the document suggests, with a failure to fix the issues continuing even after a consultant was brought in to assess the procedures.
Field was fired on May 1st, 2017, reported on that day HERE in Parker Live. The Board of Supervisors left the public boardroom to hold a private Executive Session while the public waited. Field was included in the session, which was held to discuss “the continued employment, assignment, appointment, promotion, demotion, dismissal, salary, discipline or resignation of the position of the La Paz County Public Defender.” Field says she recalls “in detail” what was discussed during the Executive Session, but did not want her attorneys to disclose it in the document out of “an abundance of caution.”
“No reason was given by the Board of Supervisors for Ms. Field’s involuntary termination and replacement with a much younger male attorney,” her claim reads.
It is widely accepted that most appointments of the County Board of Supervisors are ‘at-will’, meaning that no justification is needed to fire the appointed employee for any reason. But Field’s claim says that she was not, in fact, an at-will employee, and that the County had violated three exceptions to the at-will doctrine.
“Statutory authority, coupled with the express language of the Employee Handbook, makes it crystal clear that Ms. Field was not an at-will employee of La Paz County,” the document says.
Citing retaliation by County officials in response to her whistleblowing, Field’s attorneys say “employees should not have to choose between their jobs and the demands of important public policy interests.” It continues to say that the County “retaliated against Ms. Field by firing her for exposing and working diligently to rectify significant financial problems.”
Field’s salary at the time she was fired was almost $104,000. Citing that she expected to work at least 4 more years in the role, and that she had been denied the full retirement she would have been eligible for a mere number of months later, the claim cites $950,000 as the amount she would now be willing to settle for.
Under state statute, if the County does not resolve the claim with Field before December 17th, it will be deemed to have been denied and the case will move forward in Superior Court.
La Paz County’s insurance pool typically handles such legal matters on behalf of the County, with a decision by the Board of Supervisors needed to approve any settlements.
Field’s husband, Dan Field, is also an attorney and the former La Paz County Administrator. His employment in that role was terminated for no cause last December.
To view the notice of claim in full, it is attached HERE (PDF).