Legal Reference

Rule of law erodes further in Maricopa County

by Clint Bolick

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.