Rule of law erodes further in Maricopa County

by Clint Bolick
Goldwater Institute
The open warfare among Maricopa County elected officials continues to escalate. But it was taxpayers and ordinary citizens who took the shrapnel from the latest barrage.
In a shocking incident rebroadcast on YouTube, a sheriff’s detention officer, Adam Stoddard, recently was caught looking through papers in a defense attorney’s file while her back was turned as she spoke to the judge. Stoddard pulled out some papers and handed them to another officer, who left the courtroom.
Stoddard, who has no business looking through an attorney’s confidential file, claimed he read some words indicating a crime might be committed. It was not apparent who wrote the words, when they were written, or that any crime was imminent.
Judge Gary Donahoe found Stoddard in contempt of court but slapped him on the wrist, saying a public apology would suffice. When Stoddard refused, Donahoe sent him to jail.
By remarkable coincidence, the day after Stoddard reported to serve his sentence, nearly 20 of his colleagues called in sick, paralyzing court activities. A subsequent bomb threat led to the evacuation of the court for three hours.  Court business, including criminal hearings, came to a halt.
Instead of urging detention officers to fulfill their important duties, Sheriff Joe Arpaio remarked that he encourages sick employees to stay home, and he referred to Stoddard as a “political prisoner.”
In addition to disrupting the justice system, the protest cost taxpayers $73 per inmate for every extra day of jail time and $25 for every juror whose time was wasted.
Sworn law-enforcement officers take an oath to uphold the law. By effectively shutting down the very justice system they are employed to protect, the sheriff’s officers displayed contempt toward the rule of law. Taxpayers should hold them accountable for abrogating their essential duties.

Clint Bolick is director of the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.


  1. I do not think it’s fair to attribute a bomb threat to MCSO. But don’t let that little nib get in the way of looking out for the taxpayer.

    Seeking justice is shockingly expensive and inefficient. Just like upholding the Constitution.

    There are plenty of good arguments for and against what Stoddard did during the sentencing of that gang member while his buddies were in the back of the room. But its impact on the taxpayer is not one of them.

  2. Great point Clint. Thanks for always looking out for the bottom line. There is no excuse, ever, to look at the defense’s papers and especially photocopy them. Ever. Stoddard made a mistake, big deal. he should have just apologized and moved on. Everyone makes mistakes. As was aptly said, this was a gang member and Stoddard thought he was doing the right thing. Instead, the Sheriff used him in his insane war on the Justice system.

  3. …and in the last days, lawlessness will abound…

  4. What Stoddard did was wrong, but it would have never escalated to this extent if Judge Donahoe, who has shown his bias in the past against the Sheriff and County Attorney, hadn’t penalized him with such a ridiculous ostentatious sentence. Fine the guy, sure. But demand that he hold a humiliating press conference, threatening him with JAIL? It’s going to backfire on Donahoe, because there is no reason why Stoddard needs to be in jail over Christmas over this. If the courts weren’t in the tank against the Sheriff, Judge Donohoe would given him a more appropriate sentence.

  5. And if you weren’t so in the tank for the Sheriff, you would understand why what happened was so stunning in its assault on the judicial process we are all — whether gang-banger scumbag or not — guaranteed by the Constitution. If we had a county attorney worth his salt, this deputy would be facing criminal charges.

  6. Her, what exact criminal charges are you talking about. I am not a county attorney but I have practiced criminal law for over 15 years. There is no statute that covers what Stoddard did. It was wrong but Donahoe’s sentence is way out of line. His original sentence even allowed the public defender to judge the apology and if she wasn’t satisfied Stoddard would have to go to jail. A fine, class or even a weekend in jail would have been the proper punishment.

  7. Jefferson Smith says

    Don’t we want to afford judges broad authority to control their court rooms? Usually (almost always?) this power limits the antics of defendants and their grandstanding defense attorneys. When a sworn officer violates common court room decorum they should be held to a high standard. In my view, this judge went soft on Stoddard by only demanding an apology. What if, God forbid, this clown did something an appeals court uses to throw out the case against the gang-bangers? The state must be very careful not to hand vicious defendants just what they need to get off on a technicality. If I or a member of my family were a victim of the defendant’s alleged crime, I would be irate that Stoddard put the conviction and punishment of the guilty in jeopardy.

    Stoddard should have been found in contempt immediately and jailed without the opportunity for an apology. That’s tough justice.

    Just because he’s one of Sheriff Joe’s guys, please don’t reflexively rush to his defense. All of this warring between Arpaio/Thomas and the county are causing folks to lose their perspective. Arpaio/Thomas supporters must ask themselves an honest question… is there anything that “your side” could do that you would not defend?

    This behavior is the lowest kind of tribalism. America is not about my tribe against yours. It’s about the rule of law and the rights of individuals not us vs. them. Individuals in the Arpaio/Thomas camp can screw up. Shouldn’t we be able to see that in this case?

    You are right Clint… keep up the “keeping us honest” work that is so desperately needed.

  8. What law was broken?

    The document from what I could see was in plan site. The deputy didn’t open up the file, it was left sticking out far enough that the deputy could read the wording. Which was cause for further investigation.

    Now if the deputy had to open the file, shuffle through the papers to find the document, that is a different story.

    Maybe next time the attorney should make sure her paper are all tucked inside the folder. Maybe next time the deputy shoudl ask to see the piece of paper. Maybe next time the judge should pay better attention in the court rooom.

    Anyway, this entire thing has become a joke on the court, attorny and deputy.

    Don’t judges have better things to do than than to waste court time on matters like this.

    Maybe all of this has to do with the overprice and scandel ridden court tower. We will just have to wait and see.

  9. Clint Bolick says

    Good comments. Just for the record, we have been critical of the conflicts of interest in the court tower project as well. I wish some elected official in Maricopa County would rise up above the political sniping, which is costly to taxpayers and destructive to the rule of law. In this instance, Sheriff Arpaio should have suspended or otherwise disciplined an officer who blatantly abused his authority; but as far as I know, he did not.

  10. To her? & Melissa:

    Your concern about the Justice System, the judicial system and the Constitution is commendable.

    However, isn’t it the Sheriff and County Attorney who are alone in their efforts to enforce immigration laws?

    And by the way, Mr. Bolick, isn’t that the “bottom line” why Messers Arpaio and Thomas are in the business elite’s gunsights?

  11. Sheriff Arpaio makes a point of supporting and standing up for his deputies. In this case, he should do this by taking responsibility, personally apoligizing for his deputy following procedures that will be changed in response to this case, asking the judge to allow the officer and the Sheriff to appear together in court to apologize for the incorrect policy, and acknowledge that the policy will be changed. The judge went too far by ordering a press conference rather than a statement in his court. Whether the deputy just made a mistake or whether there was a bad policy in place, the Sheriff will be standing up for his deputy by taking the blame and letting his deputy get back to work with a better understanding of how he should behave in court.

    It is not acceptable to have law enforcement officers defying courts. If the situation is not resolved soon, it will be necessary for the deputy to lose his Arizona law enforcement license and be terminated. Sheriff Arpaio should actively work with the judge and deputy to negotiate a solution so the deputy doesn’t suffer a professional loss and the sanctity of the court is upheld. Referring to the deputy as a political prisoner does not help solve the problem.

  12. You just have to love some of these comments, blindly defending Arpairo and the deputies. If you want to attack the punishment as excessive sure thats fine but to act as if this guy did nothing wrong is absurd.

    Also Arpairio calling the guy a political prisoner is ridiculous. These are the kinds of things are the reason why Arpairo never runs for Governor. He would never get away with this BS as governor but as Sheriff he can do and say things with much more freedom. He is not who he is without the title of Sheriff.

    To bad this video has been seen by the legal community everywhere and just reinforces the idea to people that Arizona is the wild west. What a joke

  13. Stoddard saw a threat and acted on it. Whether the note was a bomb threat, a death threat, who cares. Or do you want to give those guys a new job description as they try to keep the courts secure from violent criminal gangs?

  14. Snickers,

    If you watch the video the guy goes looking for something. Its not like he randomly saw this threat.
    He then took a document from an attorney, potentially violating the defendants rights (it could something protected by an attorney client privledge) it does not matter what it is.
    If it was such a threat all he had to say was excuse me to the attorney and say this constitutes a threat to the safety of the court and took it.
    Instead he takes it without saying anything while her back is turned.

    This guy is either an idiot or slime ball and either way what he did was wrong. I don’t see how you can defend this guy.

  15. Johnny, you bring up a good point, if Stoddard doesn’t finish this himself, he may end up having his POST certification pulled for un-ethical behavior.

  16. Well, it does matter what it is. Contraband, I will assume, is something within the deputy’s right to remove from anyone in the courtroom, including defense counsel. Obviously, it was a piece of paper, as far as we can tell. I am sure curious what was written on it.

    How he did his job we could spend all day debating, and he may be a complete idiot and a slimeball. But it’s also possible he was acting properly to address the threat.

    When something goes wrong in the courtroom with those gang members present, the deputy is likely to be the first guy to die so maybe we should defer a little.

  17. Snickers,

    Yeah the gang member in shackles so dangerous.

    All he had to do was say counsel we need this for whatever reason and I would be much more ok with it. But instead he just STOLE it. It is wrong what he did. No matter what he handled it poorly and should have been repremanded and is not a political prisoner.
    There is nothing to debate because you are just plain wrong on this one.

  18. Only one of the gang members was in shackles.

  19. James Davidson says

    Five points:

    1. If Deputy Stoddard really was a “political prisoner” as the sheriff claims, why did the sheriff lack the guts to refuse to take him to jail? The sheriff could have stood on constitutional grounds and refused to accept Deputy Stoddard if the judge ordered him to jail illegally. Did the sheriff weasel out or was he grandstanding with the “political prisoner” comment or both? You make the call.

    2. If Deputy Stoddard really thought the paper in the lawyer’s briefcase presented an imminent threat to the safety of the courtroom, why did he not interrupt the proceedings and immediately call it to the judge’s attention, either in the courtroom or in the judge’s office? The judge could have taken care of it. If a lawyer passed notes from one gang member to another calling for gang action, wouldn’t the lawyer be suspended or disbarred or be arrested? The absence of any action against this lawyer means she did nothing wrong. By the way, she’s shown a lot of class in this whole deal. She said on television she was not happy the deputy was in jail.

    3. Has Deputy Stoddard appealed his jailing? If so, what is the status of the appeal?

    4. Deputy Stoddard holds the key to his jail cell. He can obey the judge and get out, or he can continue his defiance of the court and remain in jail. It seems likely he eventually will give up. Once his vacation time is used up, his pay may get docked. This is not the sort of matter for which county personnel rules allow other deputies to donate their vacation time. Who thinks the Supervisors are going to make an exception for Deputy Stoddard?

    5. The Bill of Rights requires a warrant for seizure of a citizen’s papers. Exceptions are made for cases in which a crime is being committed in a law enforcement officer’s presence. What crime was this lawyer committing to justify Deputy Stoddard’s seizure of one of her papers from her brief case? No one has said, which implies the justification was made up after the fact. That is all it is –an implication. But if there was evidence that she was committing a crime in the deputy’s presence, where is it?


  20. Great come back snickers. Even the press release by the sheriffs is titled right or wrong he did not deserve jail time.

    They don’t even see how this guy can be defended for not saying something if there was a real security threat as opposed to stealing the paper.
    They are now just trying to say jail time is not warranted if you compare it with this other judges decisions.

    They may actually have a point here. But by blindly defending this guy you just look bad.

  21. I am happy to blindly defend him against an accusation that has landed him in jail without charges or a trial or the opportunity for bail. Justice, herself, wears a blindfold, no?

    I just don’t have all the facts, do you? And until the trial process starts and finishes we’ll never know.

    Just so we’re clear, had the deputy seen something more, like a handgun in the briefcase that somehow slipped through security, what authority does he have to act? A lot, I imagine, and no one would begrudge that. No one would be crying about the “sacrosanct” lawyer-client privilege or illegal “search and seizure.” But if he sees a similar threat in the form of a hit order from a gang member written on a piece of paper with a dollar amount on it, he suddenly loses that authority?

  22. James Davidson says


    You are doing a lot of supposing. The judge has the paper. If it were a “hit order from a gang member written on a piece of paper with a dollar amount on it,”

    1) Deputy Stoddard should have taken immediate action right there and then instead of merely removing the paper from the lawyer’s brief case,

    2) the judge would have turned the lawyer in to the prosecutor and to the State Bar Association, and the prosecutor would have convened the grand jury against her,

    3) Deputy Stoddard would have told the prosecutor’s office and the prosecutor would have brought new charges against the criminal.

    Have any of these things happened? The Stoddard/Arpaio side has made no claim that they have, which makes the gang-member-hit-order idea smell very fishy.

    We all know the judge cannot comment on the case, and so his opponents can tar him like Carville tarred Ken Starr.

    Last, there will be no trial, and there never is in a civil contempt case. Remember Judith Miller? Deputy Stoddard can get out in a flash, if he quits defying the judge, or if he wins on appeal. As I said before, once his paycheck shrinks to zero, we might see some contrition.

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