I tried to get through my 1:00 p.m. meeting on Thursday early enough to catch some of the most recent contempt proceedings in this case. You can get additional information about what’s going on here, here, here, here, and here, but I’ll give you a single, run-on-sentence summary of what people are reporting happened: one of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s goons brazenly looked through a defense attorney’s privileged and confidential file during a video-taped sentencing, committed misdemeanor theft stealing papers from the file, and had another henchman make copies before returning the stolen papers to the file, then got caught and perjured himself in subsequent contempt proceedings all the while lucking out with absurd decisions from two judges and a seemingly underwhelming show of outrage from multiple defense lawyers.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the hearing. Over at Simple Justice though, Scott Greenfield explains what happened in his newest post on this topic. Here’s a post from Heat City about what happened. Apparently, a lot of other defense attorneys attended, and the matter was continued to Tuesday. The deputy claimed he pulled the pages because certain supposed keywords gave him security concerns.
So what’s going to happen on Tuesday? You probably don’t have to wait to find out. I think I can make a pretty accurate prediction right now. There will likely be an unhappy ending for anti-authoritarian people everywhere. Nobody will be held in contempt. Everyone will have wasted a lot of time, and if Sheriff Joe and his partners in crime feel like helping themselves to something in a defense attorney’s file in the future, they’ll probably see no reason why they shouldn’t give it a whirl. A deputy doesn’t just pick through a defense attorney’s file for the hell of it, and the odds of someone else being there to make copies and prosecutors all happening to notice nothing are astronomical. My money says the whole thing was planned by some high-ups, and I’m willing to bet they try it again.
So what does that mean for Maricopa County? A plain injustice has occurred and is going to go unpunished, and no one seems to be able to do anything about it. Everyone across the blawgosphere, probably across the nation, is making jokes about Maricopa County. Whose fault is it? Could a different defense attorney have changed things? What about a different judge?
What I would have done, is to demand the judge issue a rule to show cause why the officer should not be held in contempt, allow him to obtain counsel, and have a hearing. Then I would have filed a complaint with Internal Affairs, and the state attorney’s office alleging theft, obstruction of justice, and official misconduct, with the video attached.
Here’s the problem: that’s more or less what Joanne Cuccia did do. There was a contempt hearing after the deputy had time to obtain counsel. I bet someone is filing a complaint with internal affairs, and I’m sure people are trying to get some other agency to file charges against the deputy.
The problem isn’t bad defense lawyering. There are amazing defense lawyers in the valley, and some of them are involved in the case. Defense attorneys constantly fight Sheriff Joe, and they constantly win. It’s one case at a time though. They succeed for their clients, but it’s a successful defense, not a successful offense. That’s what we need. When I hear the worst stories about Sheriff Joe from people at the receiving end of his despotism, they tend to be accompanied by the same tag line: “no one would sue him for us.” Sure, Mike Manning thoroughly spanks Sheriff Joe on a regular basis, but it usually (maybe always) involves someone who has died.
I’m only repeating what I’m told, as my practice is limited to criminal law, but I keep getting told that there are no punitive damages available in most of the suits people are likely to have against Sheriff Joe. Even though he did something wrong, there just isn’t enough money in it to make a lawyer want to take the case. In order for there to be a civil suit, it seems someone has to die or have some other quantifiable, awful thing happen to them as a result of what Sheriff Joe’s lackeys have done. He can pick through defense lawyers’ files and stalk elected officials as much as he wants, and taxpayers will only see their money wasted indirectly. Most of his violations go unpunished. If people in this state really knew cost of what he does, they’d be horrified. They won’t know about it as long as people can’t sue him and get damages for most violations.
That isn’t the only problem. For some reason, judges appear to be scared of holding Sheriff Joe accountable. The Attorney General and every other conflict prosecuting agency seem complete unwilling to challenge him. Those problems all stem from one big problem: Sheriff Joe is incredibly popular. He’s so popular he can tell the DOJ to go screw themselves. Who’s going to stop him here? Sheriff Joe’s antics are even popular among clients of mine whose rights have been trampled by his storm troopers. People like him because he usually messes with someone else. He feeds on the worst in people and knows that being bad to a certain person or group tends to make everybody else feel safe. If that wasn’t the case, he wouldn’t be so successful. If people don’t wake up, expect him to be governor. Sooner or later, he may be your dictator too.
We also need to realize that what he’s doing isn’t funny. That’s one of his best weapons. When a goofy-looking, fresh-faced deputy pours over defense counsel’s files, it looks funny to most people. Making prisoners wear pink and showing them the Food Network while feeding them rancid meat amuses the average citizen. He seems to know what people will and will not tolerate. If people aren’t okay with what he wants to do now, he’ll just slowly desensitize them to it.
When Sheriff Joe realizes he can hit someone with everything he’s got, he doesn’t hold back. Sheriff’s deputies go so far as to stalk the presiding criminal judge. When she calls him out, Sheriff Joe puts out a press release attacking her, making demands, and hinting at some kind of forthcoming judicial ethics complaint against her and two other judges. One of those two other judges is Gary Donahoe, the judge who heard the contempt proceeding in the recent file-stealing fiasco.
The other judge is Anna Baca. She was the judge who ruled against the sheriff in another right to counsel case then got overturned by the Court of Appeals of Arizona, Division One, when the sheriff appealed. Another over-the-top press release from Sheriff Joe mocked her. The language of the Court of Appeals even feels a bit pejorative, stressing how Judge Baca exceeded her authority and how relief granted by the judiciary “should be narrowly tailored so as not to unnecessarily infringe on the Sheriff’s authority.” Reading the opinion, I get the feeling Sheriff Joe’s super-powers are highly regarded by the judges on the panel.
I doubt I need to mention what he does to defense lawyers, and he attacks other politicians too. Look at how he keeps arresting Don Stapley even though no ethical prosecutor in his or her right mind is willing to charge him with anything. More than anything, don’t think about running against him. Do you really think Sheriff Joe didn’t have something to do with this smear campaign? Those are some of the most incredible allegations I’ve ever heard in a slimy political ad. Ever misled a government agency about allegations of rape? Ever been investigated for exposing yourself to a child? Ever masturbated on county time? I doubt poor Dan Saban did either, but that didn’t stop that video from being created and aired.
Sheriff Joe has managed to put himself in an amazing position. His victims have no way of holding him accountable for his more common rights violations, people love him because what he does is over the top and happens to someone else, and when he picks a target, there’s no limit on how far he’s willing to go.
To rid ourselves of Sheriff Joe, the public must understand the real consequences of what he’s doing. They must realize he’ll soon come for them too. When such a pervasive reign of terror goes on for so long, how do you convince people that their supposed savior is actually the source of their problems? People must realize that what he’s doing isn’t funny. We must give people who have been wronged by him some way to fight back.
Thinking about all of this, I almost wish it was something in the water. That’s probably an easier problem to fix.