If a part-time Maricopa County judge has his way, chronic shoplifter Rhonda Mecham will have a much harder time satisfying her confessed "habit" in the future.
That's because of an unusual sentencing provision that pro tem Superior Court Judge Joel Thompson says he designed to notify area retailers about Mecham's lengthy shoplifting record.
Last July 9, Thompson ordered Mecham to "carry a memorandum signed by the court at all times and [to] present it to security or cashier personnel upon entry into any retail business."
In other words, whenever Mecham goes into a store, she is supposed to show Thompson's letter to a store employee.
"She was saying, 'I just can't seem to help myself,'" says Thompson, a Phoenix defense attorney who occasionally sits as a judge. "I'm a little sick of the revolving door of justice. It wasn't like she was stealing food to feed her kids. So I came up with this idea, like DUI offenders who have to put bumper stickers on their cars, or child molesters who have to put placards on their front lawns."
Several Maricopa County Courthouse sources say they've never heard of an order like Thompson's. And it's uncertain how, or if, authorities will confirm that the 20-year-old Phoenix mother of three is complying with the court order.
When initially asked about it, Mecham's probation officer, Deneen Bertucci, couldn't even place the woman's name or case. After Bertucci finally did recall the case, she referred all questions about Rhonda Mecham to her Adult Probation Office supervisor, Mike Goss.
Please leave an inch of space here for Goss comment. Rubin will fill Monday.
Records show Mecham was released from Maricopa County Jail earlier this month, after serving a two-month sentence, another stipulation of her probation term.
Mecham couldn't be located for comment. The phone number she gave to court officials is out of service, and no one answered the door at the west-side address she listed several months ago.
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Mecham's police record shows seven prior misdemeanor shoplifting convictions. The theft of a raincoat from a T J Maxx store in central Phoenix led to Thompson's ruling. But even Thompson admits his order is full of loopholes.
"I don't know if this woman will get caught if she doesn't show my letter, say, when she goes into a Circle K," Thompson says. "But if she can't manage to do this and she gets caught by a surveillance team, she'll be in violation of probation. I was just trying to do something to break the cycle."
It is unclear whether Thompson's unusual sentence will in fact break that cycle.
Goss, the probation office supervisor, says his department asked the Superior Court presiding criminal judge late last week to modify Thompson's ruling.
"We are asking the judge to cut the letter out of Ms. Mecham's terms of probation. We're doing this to avoid the obvious problems of monitoring her around the clock and to avoid unneccesary embarrassment to her," Goss says.