This is one of the most incredible videos that I have seen. In the video above, Officer Adam Stoddard with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is clearly shown reading confidential papers of defense attorney Joanne Cuccia while she is addressing the court on behalf of jail inmate Antonio Lozano (accused of fighting with another inmate). He then pulls a sheet from the file on the defense table and gives it to another deputy to be copied.
What is equally amazing is the relatively weak response from Judge Lisa Flores, who could presumably see Stoddard’s actions from the bench. It is possible that she was blocked in her view by counsel. In the video, Lozano appears to be the only person who clearly notices the removal.
When told, however, Flores reacts a bit defensively to objections from Cuccia and tells her repeatedly to calm down, even though Cuccia seems determined but professional in her statements to the court. Flores also immediately offers a justification that Stoddard is there to protect the court — apparently by copying confidential material. Eventually, she suspends the sentencing hearing.
A hearing was later held before Judge Gary Donahoe and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office defended Stoddard, insisting that he must screen all defense documents that are passed to an inmate. He insisted that, when he walked near the defense attorney’s table, he recognized some documents that weren’t previously screened.
It is true that some courts allow deputies to thumb through papers to be certain that they do not contain contraband or weapons, but this is a cursory inspection. It is a somewhat controversial practice but it is so limited that most attorneys are not concerned because the officers do not read the papers. Most courts do not have this practice. While your papers can be inspected at jails in face-to-face meetings, courtrooms are generally not subject to such inspections. After all, most courts have metal detectors at the entrances. Weapon transfers, therefore, are not a serious threat in counsel-to-client interactions in court. That leaves contraband, which is not a justification (in my view) for such intrusion. We have seen lawyers arrested on such charges (here and here), but it is incredibly rare. It is more common to see deputies arrested for contraband rackets than attorneys.
I have never heard of an officer copying a document at a prison or a court in such an inspection. This document was found by Donahoe to be subject to attorney-client privilege. Stoddard is clearly reading the document and proceeds to take it without notifying Cuccia and making a copy. It is a simply amazing violation of constitutional and confidentiality rules. I am surprised not to have seen a strong statement and intervention from the Arizona state bar in the case, but I hope that will be coming this week.
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