Justice After Hours

Maricopa County's Initial Appearance Court plods on through the wee hours

Once that grouchy collection is dispatched, only two prisoners are left in the courtroom. One is Bruce McKinney, a forty-year-old Phoenix community activist being held on a civil fugitive warrant in the alleged contract killing of an Indiana couple. He's a good example of what could go wrong with the system.

Because pretrial release guidelines don't properly account for civil fugitive warrants, McKinney's interviewer has had to recommend a bond of only $8,000. To call LoBue's attention to the seriousness of the case, however, the interviewer noted on a form that McKinney is a "fugitive from justice. Two counts murder."

At subsequent hearings, television cameras will show a shackled and handcuffed McKinney standing in jail garb before a Justice Court judge. But this morning, he's wearing the street clothes he had on when police arrested him hours ago. McKinney is as neat and self-possessed as anyone the judge has seen this morning. LoBue asks him if he wants to waive extradition to Indiana.

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"I think I'd like to seek the advice of an attorney," McKinney says in a clear voice.

"I don't blame you," LoBue replies. "I would too." He sets McKinney's bail at $411,000, more than enough to keep him behind bars.

But, under the worst-case scenario, LoBue says later, the case could have been a nightmare.

"Suppose I didn't have the proper information that this was a murder case," he says. "Suppose I didn't pay attention to this McKinney case and said, `Okay. Bail set at $8,000,' and this guy takes off. A real mess. We're like interior linemen in football. We screw up, we get noticed. If I set a low bond on a guy charged with murder, I should get noticed."

LoBue calls his final case, an accused Phoenix child molester. "I always do those molesters last, as a courtesy," the judge says. "If they get tossed back into the tank with a bunch of prisoners, they could be in big, big trouble. This way, they can lie about what they're charged with, at least for the time being."

Like McKinney, the alleged molester is exceptionally courteous. The judge sets bond at $27,500 and springs off the bench.

It's 5:20 a.m.
LoBue's last task is to complete the I.A. paperwork on a trio of "918s." They are prisoners kept from court because they cause too much trouble for everyone concerned. He signs the papers and hops to his feet.

"Let's get out of here," LoBue tells court clerk Helen Shaffer after saying his good-bys to the night shift, also bundled up and ready to hit the road. "Let's go eat."

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