False letters, hidden settlements, personal agendas: it’s all in a notice of claim filed by former La Paz County Attorney Glenn Buckelew, who alleges corruption on the part of his former colleagues.
Buckelew filed the notice of claim for what he says was wrongful termination, which he says came after he had been looking into corrupt and illegal practices involving former County officials.
Buckelew’s accusations of “sordid behavior, corruption, self dealing and [abuse]” focus largely on a few people: former County Administrator Dan Field and his wife, former Chief Public Defender Kathy Field, along with high-ranking Sheriff’s official Larry Irwin, the husband of Supervisor Holly Irwin, and former Supervisor and later Sheriff John Drum.
“These individuals,” his attorney writes, “collaborated to further each others’ personal, political and financial agendas to extract inappropriate and illegal benefits from the La Paz County taxpayers.”
Buckelew then sets out several examples of the behavior he is referring to.
He says that Dan Field amassed “almost all administrative power in La Paz County”, becoming County Administrator, Clerk of the Board of Supervisors and Acting Finance Director, and that, “in those roles he controlled matters before the Board and as well as the County finances. When finance department employees began [to] question the propriety of Field’s activities, Field called on Sheriff Drum to open an investigation. Drum assigned [Larry] Irwin … to handle the investigation and intimidate the finance employees.”
Irwin, who is still with the Sheriff’s Department, was an investigator with the department back when Don Lowery was elected Sheriff. According to Buckelew’s claim, Lowery had decided to reassign Irwin to a patrol position, and the Irwins appealed to County Administrator Dan Field.
“Field obliged the Irwins by surreptitiously authoring a ‘whistleblowing’ document for Larry Irwin,” the claim reads. “The letter was a sham. Field then publicly announced that he had ‘received’ a whistleblowing letter from Irwin and that La Paz County needed to protect Irwin. Field recommended the Board of Supervisors create a new (and completely unnecessary) law enforcement position within the County Parks Department. The position (Certified Chief Park Ranger) was created and Larry Irwin was appointed to fill it.”
The claim goes on to say that the appointment of Irwin as Park Ranger generated public outcry, because Field refused to release Irwin’s whistleblower letter.
“The La Paz County Deputies Association (LPCDA) filed a public records request for the letter. Field refused to produce the letter and LPCDA filed suit. Field understood that his sham would be exposed if the County Attorney’s Office or hired outside counsel defended the case. La Paz County, however, was part of, and insured through, a shared county ‘risk-pool’ known as ACIP. Field sat on ACIP’s board. The actual ACIP insuring documentary did not provide coverage for defense of public records lawsuits. Nevertheless, at Field’s urging ACIP assigned a lawyer to defend Field. As the legal bills came in, Field passed them off as garden variety ACIP defense bills and submitted them to the County for payment. Using ACIP as a conduit, Field circumvented oversight and used the County to pay what we were essentially personal legal fees,” the notice says.
Buckelew claims that when John Drum was elected Sheriff, he, the Irwins and Fields “worked significant changes to La Paz County for their own personal benefit,” including another new position and salary increase for Larry Irwin, and appointing Kathy Field as Chief Public Defender. The notice claims that Kathy was “completely unqualified” for the position and that the County had to hire a “special consultant” to train her.
Settlements in secret
Other examples of corruption cited by Buckelew include his claim that Dan Field hid a monetary settlement that would make Sheriff Drum look bad during his re-election campaign. An inmate called Jesse Flores had been able to commit suicide while in custody, and the County’s settlement with his family should have apparently been approved by the Board of Supervisors in a public meeting that included public comment, but Field allegedly withheld it from the Board to protect Drum.
Private lawyer, public expense
A further example involves the allegation that Larry Irwin, after harassing a woman in a hardware store, “was given a free lawyer [to defend him] at taxpayers’ expense.” Buckelew says that Field used the County to pay over $18,000 in Irwin’s personal legal fees, passing the bills off as “garden variety ACIP defense bills and [submitting] them to the County for payment.”
Buckelew also took issue with the way his employment was terminated. He claims that as he began to uncover the misconduct described in his notice, it made authorities uncomfortable, and that ultimately, the discomfort was the reason County Attorney Tony Rogers terminated his employment.
His attorney describes the scene created last summer when Buckelew became irate about something in the County Attorney’s office, refused to go home when asked by Chief Deputy County Attorney Karen Hobbs, and eventually was led out by a Sheriff’s deputy at the instruction of Sheriff Bill Risen in front of all his coworkers, who had been evacuated from the building. Buckelew says Rogers fired him after the incident, telling him the reason for his termination was that staff feared for their personal safety.
The notice of claim finishes by saying that Buckelew would accept $350,000 from the County to settle his claims. ACIP would likely pay a portion of any settlement made, and will act on behalf of the County in the case.
John Drum was defeated in his re-election bid by Risen in the 2016 Republican primary. Dan and Kathy Field’s employments were both terminated by the Board of Supervisors at the end of 2016 and in May 2017. Kathy filed a notice of claim for almost a million dollars, citing wrongful termination. She reportedly received a settlement of $42,000. Larry Irwin still works at the Sheriff’s Department.