To dodge its obligation, a state utility company paid a fancy law firm triple the amount of money required to fix damages caused by one of its trucks. It’s yet another example of government wasting taxpayer dollars, a senseless misuse of public funds that is all too common in government at all levels. It’s also a bizarre—and costly—struggle between one of the nation’s largest public power utilities and a small business owner whose security cameras captured the truck crushing the drainage system under the asphalt of her parking lot. The utility truck, which weighs nine tons, left a hole in the pavement and a broken drain pipe underground when it used the parking lot to turn around.
The case comes out of Phoenix Arizona where a single mother and respected professional is simply trying to get the parking lot of her chiropractic business fixed. The culprit is the Salt River Project (SRP), which has served central Arizona since 1903 and provides electricity to approximately 1 million customers in a 2,900-square-mile area, including most of metropolitan Phoenix. In addition to four officers and eight executive managers, SRP has more than 40 elected board members, directors and council members. The utility’s website describes it as a “community-based, not-for-profit organization” that has adopted a “leaner, greener and even more customer-centric” strategy that meets customers’ needs. SRP assures the public that funds that it is committed to foundational values that have the best interest of the communities it serves.
SRP’s strategy in the Phoenix chiropractor case seems to contradict its promises and certainly cannot be considered in the best interest of the taxpayers who sustain it. The damage to the property is estimated to be $43,000, according to licensed experts hired by the chiropractor, Melody Jafari. She has spent about $20,000 trying to get the utility company to pay for the damage to her parking lot, including legal costs, an expert witness and temporary repairs to keep her business running. Rather than pay for the repairs, SRP has blown $129,000 so far to avoid taking responsibility. The public utility hired a multi-million-dollar national law firm called Jennings Strouss with offices in Phoenix, Peoria, Tucson and Washington D.C. The law firm boasts of leveraging its resources regionally and nationally and having a litigation department that stands as one of the most respected in the Southwest.
Jafari and SRP have been engaged in a tug of war since the incident occurred in early August 2015. The Phoenix area had just been hit with a fierce monsoon storm and power outages were occurring throughout the region. A utility truck was in the area tending to power lines that had been damaged by the storm, though none were in the vicinity of Jafari’s business. The SRP truck making rounds simply used the parking lot to turn around and that’s when the weight of the truck crushed the drainage system under the asphalt parking lot, leaving a large hole in the pavement and a broken drain pipe. Jafari has numerous security cameras monitoring her property and the entire incident was captured on video. When Jafari initially contacted SRP she says they seemed responsive and she was optimistic the utility would fix the damage. Instead, SRP chose to lawyer up and pay three times the cost of conducting the repairs on attorneys’ fees. Judicial Watch reached out to SRP through its media relations department but never heard back.
In the meantime, Jafari has been left to fend for herself. Her unbelievable years-long ordeal with the utility caught the attention of the local police labor counsel, Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA), which is litigating on her behalf. PLEA’s attorney of four decades, Mike Napier, has partnered with Judicial Watch numerous times to address rule of law and conservative issues in the nation’s fifth-largest city and fastest growing county, Maricopa. Napier told Judicial Watch that back in December 2015 SRP offered to compensate Jafari $750 for a hot patch repair of the pavement, which doesn’t begin to cover the magnitude of the damage.