THE JUDGE WHO WENT TO POTREMINISCING ABOUT MARQUARDT WITH THOSE WHO WERE SENTENCED BY HIM

Ex-Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Philip Marquardt probably doesn't remember Richard Mendez, but Mendez remembers the judge. And Mendez says he knows just how Marquardt must be feeling as the judge's own August 9 sentencing date for marijuana possession approaches.

That's because Mendez himself faced Marquardt for sentencing on a pot conviction in 1987, as a lad of eighteen. "Under the circumstances, I felt he was a little strong," recalls Mendez, who was sentenced to a year of probation for possessing about the same quantity of marijuana that Marquardt himself was carrying when the judge was busted in Texas in 1988. (A Texas judge sentenced Marquardt to six days in jail and a $500 fine. Marquardt later was busted in Phoenix after a package of marijuana was delivered to his home.)

Actually, court records show Marquardt generally went by the rules in sentencing people whose offenses were similar to his own two marijuana busts. If the former judge receives a sentence comparable to those he handed out while on the criminal bench, he'll probably end up on probation. Since he's a two-time loser, he might have to pay a fine, as well.

But two years in jail and a $150,000 fine? Don't hold your breath. Not even Marquardt, despite his reputation for crime-busting conservatism, handed out the maximum for pot busts. Neither was he as charitable as the Texas judge, as Richard Mendez can attest.

Calls to Marquardt's home and to his attorney, Michael Kimerer, were not returned.

But in the six months prior to being transferred from the criminal bench to civil cases following his 1988 marijuana-possession conviction, Marquardt, then a closet pothead, meted out 49 sentences for pot possession, generally ranging from one to three years of probation.

According to court records, several offenders who, like Marquardt himself, were apprehended with tiny amounts of the drug received small fines instead.

Marquardt's first bust occurred in Houston, when he was stopped by customs officials while returning from a Mexican vacation with a condom-sized packet of marijuana in his hip pocket. He claimed he didn't know it was pot.

The circumstances surrounding Mendez's bust were almost as quirky, court records show. Mendez was languishing in the Maricopa County Jail's holding tank after an arrest for trespassing when another prisoner asked him for a cigarette. Wanting to be neighborly, Mendez reached into his pocket to oblige, only to discover he was fresh out of cigarettes.

Mendez did, however, find a couple of joints, apparently overlooked by the authorities during their customary welcome search, which he offered to his cellmate. But the distinctive aroma of cannabis wafted down the cellblock and into the wrong pair of nostrils, whereupon Mendez was busted yet again. He was charged with promoting contraband in prison, later changed in a plea agreement to felony marijuana possession.

"I feel in a way I shouldn't have been charged at all," Mendez says. "They didn't find it in the initial search, so if the officers are not smart enough to catch it then, why punish me for it later?"

At the very least, Mendez reasons, Judge Marquardt should have seen the beef was small potatoes. "It was my first time to be involved with anything," Mendez says, "and I felt I could've gotten a fine. I didn't even remember it was in my pocket." (A subsequent judge agreed with his point and reduced the conviction to a misdemeanor when Mendez completed his probation in 1988.)

Of course, there is a complicating factor in Marquardt's case. Now that he's come clean about his long enchantment with the evil weed, Marquardt faces a potential perjury charge because he lied to the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct when it called him to account following the Texas bust. Marquardt swore under oath he was not a drug user.

This facet of the case holds particular irony for Jackie Kirksey, a former Glendale schoolteacher who was sentenced by Marquardt after pleading guilty to one count of perjury in 1987. "When I heard Marquardt had been busted, I said, `Now ain't this a bitch?'" says Kirksey, whose own perjury conviction arose out of circumstances remarkably similar to those in which the judge now finds himself.

Kirksey was stripped of his teaching license and charged with three counts of perjury for lying on his state teaching certificate application about two previous convictions for white-collar crime he committed before he moved to Arizona, court records show. Kirksey says Marquardt gave him three years of probation despite several letters from Glendale school administrators warmly praising his work as a teacher and juvenile-drug-abuse counselor, and notes that his probation was terminated eighteen months early for good behavior.

Kirksey, now studying counseling at Glendale Community College, predicts that Marquardt will not receive the maximum penalty and may not even be charged with perjury. "He has all the right contacts, he knows the right adjectives to use," Kirksey says. "People will say, `See? He's repentant,' and they'll give him a slap on the wrist."

Marquardt generally went by the rules in sentencing people whose offenses were similar to his own two marijuana busts.

 
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