Utility magnate George Johnson thought he had bought political influence when he included gubernatorial advisor/Maricopa Supervisor/friend Andy Kunasek in a multi-million dollar trust. Instead, it will cost him $21M.

When Kunasek declined to intervene in an Arizona environmental investigation for him, Johnson stripped the trust to punish Kunasek.

Kunasek won a jury verdict for $10.5M in compensation damages, plus an additional $10.5M in punitive damages. Yesterday, the Arizona Court of Appeals AFFIRMED the judgment.

Kunasek, a Republican Supervisor until 2016, was also an advisor to Governor Jan Brewer. Shortly after Johnson set up the trust, he asked Kunasek to help quash a state environmental investigation into improper waste disposal practices in Pinal County. Kunasek refused, and he mysteriously stopped receiving distribution payments from the trust soon thereafter.

Johnson challenged the $21M verdict on several grounds; the Court of Appeals was having none of it. In their unanimous 22-page decision authored by Chief Judge Kent Cattani, the challenges to the jury’s decision on the penalties and that the statute of limitations had not run were systematically disposed of.

Johnson no longer owns Johnson Utilities – the Corporation Commission ordered EPCOR to take over the company several years ago, and they subsequently purchased it – but Johnson (now, 90 years old) owns or controls several Arizona developments. Johnson had also been indicted and accused of bribing a Corporation Commissioner, but that case resulted in a mistrialwas dismissed.

No word yet on whether Johnson will ask the Arizona Supreme Court to rule otherwise.

Correction: We initially described the Johnson bribery case as being dismissed. It ended in a mistrial and prosecutors did not re-file.

This article was reported by AZ Law founder Paul Weich. Paul was running for a seat in Arizona’s House of Representatives.

“AZ Law” includes articles, commentaries and updates about opinions from the Arizona Supreme Court, U.S. Supreme Court, as well as trial and appellate courts, etc. AZ Law is founded by Phoenix attorney Paul Weich, and joins Arizona’s Politics on the internet. 

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