Officer Adam Stoddard of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has added contempt of court to his prior violation of attorney-client confidentiality. At the urging of his boss, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Stoddard has refused to apologize to defense attorney Joanne Cuccia after he swiped handwritten notes from her papers — caught in the videotape above. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe ordered Stoddard to either apologize or report to jail — a remarkably light sentence. However, Arpaio encouraged his officer to go to jail — just the latest outrageous act by Arpaio who has been widely accused of acting more like a petty dictator than a police officer in Arizona.
Stoddard’s punishment was light in my view and he should have been barred from work in the courthouse or jail. Yet, he seems to believe that swiping confidential notes is a noble deed — a view clearly reinforced by his boss. On Monday he issued the following statement: “Part of my job in providing security to the court is to inspect documents brought into the courtroom. On October 19th, I saw a document that I had not yet screened, and that raised security concerns. I retrieved that document in plain sight and had court personnel copy it to preserve it as evidence in case it was a security breach. Judge Donahoe has ordered me to feel something I do not and say something I cannot. I cannot apologize for putting court safety first. The judge therefore puts me in a position where I must lie or go to jail. And I will not lie.”
The statement is nonsensical. Officers are allowed to flip through papers to see if there is contraband or weapons. They are not supposed to read confidential notes for their content or make copies of them. It is clear that the judges in the courthouse have allowed Arpaio and his officers too much discretion. This was an outrageous act and should not be countenanced by any judge on appeal. What is equally disturbing is the decision of county attorney Andrew Thomas to fight to defend such an outrage.
Just because Arpaio has declared that an appeal will be taken does not mean that prosecutors must follow his lead over a cliff. The prosecutors have a right to stand aside on principle and not fight to defend such conduct. They can decline and, if necessary, arrange for private counsel to represent the officer.
Stoddard self-surrendered to jail after a court order was issued. Arpaio was quick to the cameras and declared “[m]y officer will go to jail; we’ll appeal it, I’m very angry about this. . . . For political reasons, he was thrown to the wolves.”
Deputy county attorney Tom Liddy objected that the order stated that Cuccia had to be satisfied by the apology or the officer would face jail: “She’s going to decide if Officer Stoddard is going to go to jail on December 1st? You know what? That’s nuts. That’s absolutely nuts.” I agree. It is absolutely nuts that a simply apology would suffice for this violation. It is also absolutely nuts that Liddy and his boss Andrew Thomas have turned their back on the legal system and are defending such an outrageous abuse by the officer.
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