Video: Arizona Officer Swipes Document From Defense File Behind the Back of Defense Counsel in Courtroom

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.

For the full story, click here.

27 thoughts on “Video: Arizona Officer Swipes Document From Defense File Behind the Back of Defense Counsel in Courtroom”

  1. ankushnarula, thanks for the update. I am amazed that documents are ‘searched’ in Arizona courts. I am amazed as well that the Deputy’s testimny that not searching them all specifically, as well as being concerned that some of them might pose a threat, wasn’t met with derisive laughter by everyone in the court as the testimony was given.

    From link “Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe said in the hearing last week that he had reviewed the documents and determined they posed no security threat. ”

    It’s also disturbing that the judge closed the court during the Deputy’s testimony to “protect the interests of one or more of the parties involved.”

    I felt like I was reading a report on the trial process of the dissidents in Iran. Is what is going on in that courtroom the best the American justice system can offer? If it is we are in deep, deep trouble.

  2. @ Stel Pavlou, I understand completely what you mean. I’m still pickin’ myself up from the floor.

  3. If you observe at about time 1:34, contemnor Officer Stoddard takes a document out from the center/middle of the attorney’s dossier. Earlier he pulled the doc out just a bit as if he had seen it before, perhaps in his initial clearing of the dossier and knew then that it was something he—or his attorney friend—might need to seal (Steal!) the case against the defendant.

    This is a very entertaining video, I have watched it twice, and it is a real keeper. As a kid I watched Perry Mason and this is much mo’ better.

  4. It is truly one of the most disturbing and frankly, insanely indifferent, actions I have ever seen committed by an officer of the court. Still, I do have to point at the defense attorney too. I might have gotten cited for contempt but I guarantee had that been my client, silence would not have been an issue from the defense bench.

  5. Who is this bubble-headed, mealy-mouthed Judge who thinks her routine docket takes precedence over a clear breach of Constitutional rights occurring in her presence? The only truth she spoke was when she said she didn’t know what was going on. That was contempt occurring in her presence and she sets it down for some perfunctory hearing. The lawyer shows amazing restraint as well as some naivete’ by not asking for all copies back too. As for that slack-jawed local deputy, he needs a little education on the Constitution he swore to protect — an inadvertent thuggery perhaps, but in Maricopa County, I’d bet otherwise.

    1. Mespo:

      I must confess to being taken aback by the judge’s near complete passivity — if not tranquility–on display on the tape. I have never heard of anything like this let alone seen it.

  6. Well, Michael F.,Esq., at least I elicited a response from you. You wouldn’t begrudge an old former fed in his 6th decade of life a dream of what should be, would you?

    I dare say that your courtroom experiences ‘patently’ swamp my scant appearances in court.

    Thanks for the reply and welcome aboard.

  7. I do not see how any moderately observant judge could *not* have seen the officers’ actions.

    The courtroom exemplifies one of the last bastions of honorable and protective realms that we have left in our declining system of “justice.”

    Contemnor Stoddard must receive severe punishment for his actions; furthermore, I do not think that he has the good character to remain an officer of the court.

  8. Flores’ courtroom … now everybody in the country knows exactly what kind of court the judge runs.

  9. TomH.,

    If the Judge insists that the Defendant waive A/C privilege then what contemptible act has the deputy then committed in her presence?

  10. Ugh. And perhaps even more strange, Judge Donahoe is reportedly insisting that defendant Lozano waive attorney-client privilege on the pilfered document before Judge Donahoe will even consider charging the officers with contempt.

  11. Many smaller court judges see the same LEO’s regularly, and are comfortable with them, signing their warrants, relying on their testimony, sharing office coffee. That creates an unconscious bias in favor of the prosecution. The judges run on a law-and-order platform universally. Most are ex-prosecutors who’ve made their bones beating up on the clients of the underfunded PD’s.
    Worst example of justice is the one that most of us see: traffic court. Maricopa County is a conservative bastion that lends its whole justice system to this kind of abuse. No surprise it happened, and no surprise it stuck.

  12. This is not at all surprising that this happens. The LEO’s Hall of Shame or is that Fame? Has a place in LEO Heaven for all of the godly deeds offered by these officers. Now if they would be required to share with Defense Attorneys exculpatory information that they have on your clients. Ah not, they are not subject to anyone’s laws but there own.

    What happened with the Defendants ability to assist counsel? What about Larceny, simple theft, interference with a contract? Is the deputy subject to disciplinary actions? He probably is not and will most likely be promoted because of his braveness in the line of duty.

    The Judge has other issues, is it fairness in all proceedings that they are responsible for? Did she have an oath that she swore to uphold? Is she really a prosecutor in a robe?

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