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. Seamus,

    Thank you for your interesting perspective and your opinion that courtroom cameras are a good idea. Others think as I do that the antics/theatrics that occurred in the O.J. Simpson trial tarnished the ideal of courtroom cameras. However, you have a good point and if cameras were not in Judge Flores’ court we would have never learned of this very curious incident.

    Perhaps other attorneys can/will weigh-in here regarding whether there should there be courtroom cameras or not.

    My ‘bastion of honorable and protective realms’ statement seems quite ‘Pollyannaish’ if there are others who have experienced similar court antics as you have observed.

  2. There is no excuse (excluding limits on filming some witnesses and the jury) why cameras are not allowed in all courts in this country. My only surprise is that people are surprised by both the judge’s and deputy’s actions in this case. I’ve seen worse things go on in court.

    Jurisdictions which ban cameras from the court often allege that attorneys will show boat in front of cameras or that it might pose a security threat. This is all nonsense. The ban on cameras is to protect the unethical conduct that often takes place in court.

    There was a particularly racist judge I used to appear before when I first got out of law school (he’s now dead) who used to get mad at spanish speakers in the DUI courtroom he presided over. He used to yell at them about there lack of language skills. I actually heard him say, “What? No speaky English?” I a particulary sarcastic tone once. The attorneys in his room, including myself, where afraid to say anything about it. The State’s attorneys thought it was hilarious.

    2 weeks ago I was infront of a judge who took my cleint’s uncle into custody for direct criminal contempt (for 6 months) because he made a loud audible gasp at the reading of the verdict. The co-defendant had been found guilty, and I believe he was overcome when his nephew/my client was found not guitly (avoiding a life sentence). There was absolutely no disrepect meant towards the court and he appologized in tears as he was dragged to the lock-up. I firmly believe that the judge was just pissed off about the not guilty verdict.

    About 5years ago I saw a judge (who I’m actually friendly with) go on the record explaining how a defendant had slipped and fallen against a wall in the lock up behind the court room, when all the attorneys in the room could hear the guy yelling as he was getting his ass kicked by the deputys because he had insulted the judge.

    I could go on and on. This video didn’t surprise me at all. It just made me jealous of the court room recording devices they have in Pheonix. Thank God for technology from the early 1980’s.

  3. This is just one more consequence of the police state culture Arpaio has created in Maricopa County. Given the visibility, does the judge risk her safety if she fails to let this go?

  4. What’s scarier than the incident and the subsequent hearing and the articles/videos… If you read the comments below the article in that AZ Central link that I posted previously, there are many people who are trying to rationalize the incident with, “He’s a cop and the defendant is a convicted felon – why shouldn’t we believe he was looking at the document on good faith?” As if one thing has anything to do with the other?!!

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