Legal Ethics

Criminal Case Against Ariz. Judge Raises Questions About Prosecution


After yesterday’s announcement of felony charges against the presiding criminal court judge in Maricopa County, some lawyers in Arizona are questioning the ethics of a county attorney involved in bringing the charges and even calling for outside intervention.

Such prosecutions of a judge over his rulings on assigned cases are virtually unprecedented, observers tell the Arizona Republic.

“This is, in my opinion, an abuse of process,” says attorney James Belanger of Phoenix, who represents lawyers in ethical matters before the State Bar of Arizona.

He contends that the case against Judge Gary Donahoe is intended to force him and other judges off of prosecutions being pursued by County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. “And that, in my opinion, violates Arizona’s ethical rules of professional responsibility for lawyers,” Belanger tells the newspaper.

An earlier version of the article was discussed in an ABAJournal.com post yesterday that details the case against Donahoe and links to the criminal complaint.

Stephen Gerst, a retired Superior Court judge who is now a professor at Phoenix School of Law, says he’s never seen a criminal complaint filed against a sitting judge, except by a prisoner. Because the case largely concerns Donahoe’s conduct in court, his role as a judge is “almost a complete defense unless a judge is acting outside the scope of his employment,” says Gerst in the Republic article.

If Thomas believes Donahoe has been involved in criminal conduct, he could have asked state or federal officials to investigate rather than working with the county sheriff to pursue a criminal case against a county judge, points out Belanger.

Looking at the documents in the case, “most folks outside the justice system don’t understand, first, how incredibly unprofessional the probable cause statement is; second, how petulant it sounds, especially with respect to the issue of transporting in-custody defendants; and, finally, how this statement doesn’t support their charges,” an unidentified former Arizona prosecutor tells the Valley Fever blog of the Phoenix New Times in an e-mail.

“This is such outrageous conduct, something has to be done,” the ex-prosecutor says of the prosecution against Donahoe. The state bar should investigate the situation, he suggests.

Meanwhile, a county sheriff’s officer who was jailed by Donahoe after refusing to apologize to a lawyer after taking one of her documents in an incident that was captured by a courtroom camera has been released pending an appeal, reports KTAR.

The judge had reportedly intended to keep Adam Stoddard, who has said he can’t apologize because he did nothing wrong, until at least Christmas. But the Arizona Court of Appeals today ordered Stoddard’s release.

The criminal case against Donahoe has been transferred to the Arizona Supreme Court, the Republic notes.

Related coverage:

Arizona Republic: “Arpaio asks supervisors for $7 million to cover legal fees”

Main Justice: “Justice Department Tip-Line Targets Arizona’s ‘Sheriff Joe’”

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