Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sheriff Joe faces off with judge over deputy's courtroom document theft

There aren't too many ways to evoke sympathy for a law-enforcement officer who was recorded stealing documents from a defense attorney, but in Arizona, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe may have stumbled on the trick. In the case of Detention Officer Adam Stoddard, who was caught by a security camera swiping documents in a courtroom from defense attorney Joanne Cuccia while her back was turned, Judge Donahoe found the offending officer guilty of contempt. But rather than slap Stoddard with an adult penalty for an adult crime, he channeled his schoolyard days and ordered the officer to make a public apology -- and probably violated his rights in the process.

The problem is, while it may lie within the power of kindergarten teachers to order their charges to voice insincere sentiments to one another as a means of settling disputes, that's not a widely accepted use of, admittedly far-reaching, judicial power. Judges can fine people and toss them in the can, but ordering them to state predetermined opinions would seem to run afoul of First Amendment protections.

In Stoddard's case, Judge Donahoe had already dismissed as unacceptable the officer's claim that the reason he grabbed Cuccia's documents and photocopied them was because he saw a few suspicious words on the page. The documents clearly were covered by attorney-client privilege, he ruled. Yesterday, he found Stoddard guilty of contempt for his sticky-fingered grab at confidential information. Penalties for contempt usually consist of fines or imprisonment.

But ... as we've come to know, judges often hold police officers to be a somewhat higher breed of human than the rest of us. That's the best guess as to why Judge Donahoe decided to get creative in this case. Rather than deplete Stoddard's bank account or subject the officer to the shoddy prisons run by his own boss, the judge ordered a public, but meaningless, display of faux regret: a press conference to be held by November 30, at which a verbal and written apology is to be expressed by Officer Stoddard. If Ms. Cuccia is satisfied, the matter is then laid to rest.

After which, presumably, milk and cookies are to be served to all.

But the judge made a big error: Adult transgressor aren't toddlers; you can't make them voice opinions they don't hold, even when trying to do so seems to constitute a much lighter penalty than the alternatives. And Stoddard clearly isn't sorry, and neither is his grandstanding boss, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has already announced that the officer won't comply with the order, saying in a press release, "My officer was doing his job, and I will not stand by and allow him to be thrown to the wolves by the courts because they feel pressure from the media on this situation." He added, "I decide who holds press conferences and when they are held regarding this Sheriff's Office."

Having stepped off on the wrong foot, Judge Donahoe is now back to what he should have done to begin with: handing Officer Adam Stoddard an adult penalty for violating attorney-client privilege and interfering with the rights of criminal defendants in the courtroom.

Labels: ,


Anonymous the infamous oregon lawhobbit said...

When I first saw this I was a bit surprised that the judge didn't notice it going on when it happened.

I agree, though - I always thought that "and write a letter of apology to the victim" was pretty useless - unless followed up by "and put a couple fresh new hundred dollar bills in the envelope with it."

November 20, 2009 10:04 AM  
Blogger liberranter said...

Judge Donahoe is probably terrified of the Frankenstein monster at the head of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and his little band of demon servants, Stoddard appearing to be one of the more innocuous of them. After all, black-robed tyrants like Donahoe, who have earned the well-deserved hatred of the citizens under their jurisdiction whom they oppress through their courtrooms by running roughshod over their rights, lives and property, depend upon Arpiggo and his band of hired thugs for protection from the mobs of enraged citizens who would lynch him from the nearest lamp post if given half a chance. Donahoe can't afford to earn the wrath of his bodyguards, so he cuts them all the slack he can. Only when his hand is forced does he mete anything remotely resembling "adult" punishment, and then only of the mildest sort.

Count on Adam Stoddard getting the lightest possible legalpenalty for his act of "contempt of court" (e.g., a suspended jail sentence or a deferred fine).

November 20, 2009 12:32 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home