Thursday, December 3, 2009

Generalissimo Joe poised to turn Arizona into a Banana Republic

A law-enforcement officer is filmed stealing documents from a defense attorney. Ordered to apologize in public, the officer, with the encouragement of his high-ranking boss, refuses. The judge who jails the officer as punishment for his defiance then faces retaliation in the form of a bomb threat, striking police and official complaints filed by that high-ranking official, all in support of the transgressing officer. Just another day in Zimbabwe, right? Or maybe Venezuela. But no -- it's actually the latest headline-grabber in Maricopa County, Arizona.

Detention Officer Adam Stoddard made the national news when he was caught on camera helping himself to confidential documents belonging to defense attorney Joanne Cuccia. Found guilty of contempt of court for his actions, Stoddard was ordered by Judge Gary Donahoe to make a public apology or face jail time -- a sentence likely intended as light slap on the wrist for a cop, but one which brushed up against constitutional free-speech protections.

That's all Sheriff Joe Arpaio -- the self-proclaimed "America's toughest sheriff," and the man most likely to turn Arizona into a Banana Republic -- needed. Saying, in essence, "they can't do that to our pledges! Only we can do that to our pledges", Arpaio basically forbade Stoddard to comply with the judge's order.

Sure enough, Stoddard held a press conference only to flip the middle finger to Judge Donahoe, and was ordered to jail the next day -- a a jail managed by Sheriff Arpaio, by the way (so we have to take his word about any given inmate's whereabouts).

Now, with Sheriff Arpaio's support, officers who protect the Superior Court where Judge Donahoe works are calling in sick in sufficient numbers to shut down business. The courthouse was also evacuated when a bomb threat against public defenders was phoned in (Cuccia is a public defender).

And Arpaio has filed a complaint against Judge Gary Donahoe, along with three other judges. Against Donahoe (PDF), "the complaint alleges possible obstruction of justice, stymieing a criminal investigation, and open hostility towards courtroom staff."

Further complicating this picture is that Sheriff Joe Arpaio, despite erratic and confrontational conduct that has repeatedly put him at the wrong end of lawsuits and press coverage, is immensely popular with Maricopa County voters. In fact, recent polling suggests that the governor's office is his for the asking. He's a favorite for the Republican nod and an apparent shoe-in in the general election.

Given the level of his support for the sheriff even after costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements over abuses committed by his department, and after revelations that he is under FBI investigation for misusing his power to punish critics, it's not too great a stretch to suggest that Arpaio might win popular acclaim if he were to forego the cost and hassle of an election and just unilaterally park his uniformed butt in the governor's office.

That kind of support for even the worst behavior creates an environment in which police feel free to punish judges for penalizing a fellow officer's crimes. It's still an open question as to who will ultimately win this showdown.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what recourse does the judge have? Can she go to the Feds for assistance?

December 4, 2009 8:38 AM  
Blogger liberranter said...

I wouldn't bet on Arpiggo having an easy path to the governor's mansion. Outside of Maricona County, he appears to be widely despised and ridiculed, to the extent that anyone pays him any attention at all.

On the other hand, given his endless appetite for power and his seemingly ingenious ways of maintaining and expanding it through fraud, threats, extortion, and violence, anything is possible.

December 4, 2009 10:38 AM  

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