What happened Tuesday morning during a routine hearing in Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Connie Contes' courtroom was eerily similar to the now-infamous incident involving sheriff's detention Officer Adam Stoddard. (That's a photo from the Stoddard case -- he's the uniformed fellow standing to the left of the portly deputy.)
Here's what we know, after speaking with the judge, a deputy public defender and others (unfortunately, Judge Contes' courtroom does not have a camera installed in it):
The public defender, veteran attorney Eric Crocker, was in the courtroom with an incarcerated client, Randall Marc Korelc, a 59-year-old Scottsdale man facing second-degree murder charges in the 2007 death of his girlfriend.
Crocker says Korelc, who was handcuffed, handed him a file that included a two-page letter from the defendant instructing the attorney on legal strategies.
"I saw the deputy looking at me kind of funny, so in the interest of keeping things running smoothly I asked him if he wanted to check the file for contraband," Crocker says (though the notion of an inmate trying to sneak something to an outsider sounds dubious on its face).
At this point, Crocker was at the defense table in front of the judge, as was his client. The deputy, Moses Rodriguez, was standing next to the table, closer to Korelc than to Crocker.
Crocker says he gave the file to Deputy Rodriguez and then turned his attention to the judge, who was starting the hearing -- a pretrial management conference. Crocker says he was about to formally announce his presence to the judge when he heard a rustling of papers.
"I looked over and saw this deputy turning my client's legal letter to me around -- it was upside-down when he pulled it out of the file--and he was reading it," Crocker tells us. "He wasn't looking for contraband, believe me. He was scanning attorney-client documents."
According to a transcript of the proceedings, here's what happened next:
Crocker: "Hold on. Don't read my client's writings."
Rodriguez: "Hold on a second. I'm not going to read it."
At this point, Crocker says, he had stepped around and was standing very close to Deputy Rodriguez, worried about what was going to happen next.
Crocker: "Give it back. All you do is look for contraband. Judge, can you intervene? I want my client's letter back."
Rodriguez: "Okay. I'm giving it back to you, okay? You want me to put it back inside the sleeve?"
Crocker: "No, that's all right. Thank you. Sorry about that, Your Honor. Just trying to avoid another problem [referring to the Adam Stoddard fiasco]."
Judge Contes says she was preoccupied with paperwork during the testy exchange between the deputy and the attorney, and didn't hone in on what was happening.
"My attention was drawn to it by Mr. Crocker's voice," she tells New Times. "Once he spoke, I saw the document in the deputy's hands, but the situation was resolved without my needing to intervene or to issue orders or anything else."
Contes adds that, unlike some other judges, she doesn't have the same deputy or detention officer providing security in her courtroom.
"I don't really know this deputy," she says. "Mr. Crocker has appeared in my court, and he is a professional advocate."
We called Jack MacIntyre, a chief deputy with the Sheriff's Office, for his take on his agency's latest breach of the once-sacred attorney-client privilege. Chief MacIntyre said he hadn't heard about the incident and will get back to us.