Remembered for his still-murky link to the 1976 murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles, Phoenix attorney Neal Roberts has long negotiated around legal-system land mines with stunning success.
But now he's in a pickle that should keep him behind bars for at least a short time. Phoenix police arrested the 60-year-old Roberts near his home January 10 on charges of DUI and driving with a suspended license-it was suspended last year after a series of other drunken-driving arrests. Police reports show Roberts blew a .22 reading on his January 10 blood-alcohol test-more than two times the legal limit. He's now serving 60 days in Maricopa County Jail, but he faces felony charges that could land him in prison.
The Neal Roberts case has exposed a serious flaw in the way municipal court judges routinely allow drunken-driving defendants to go on work furlough without investigating each situation. In Roberts' case, he first was allowed a six-week postponement of his sentencing last year on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol. Then he was allowed to go on work furlough-even after the Arizona Supreme Court had temporarily suspended his license to practice law and his landlord had locked him out of his office.
City of Phoenix prosecutor Jim Denham says Roberts' release on furlough was the norm" for the city court. Practically speaking, the judges take people at their word on work furloughs," Denham says. If a person says they're working, they'll get it. Neal Roberts asked for it. And he got it."
But jail officials say Roberts never showed up January 7 for his first night in jail. Agents from the Attorney General's Office learned of Roberts' no-show within a day and informed the city prosecutor's office. It didn't matter; Roberts was busted only three days later.
I was in the process of getting a warrant out," Denham says, when my boss came in and said Roberts had blown a .22 and had a felony on him. That made the warrant moot. With his record, I don't think he's getting out for a while."
Elizabeth Finn, the judge who sentenced Roberts last November, did not return telephone calls seeking comment on the situation. City court spokesperson Charlotte Berry says the judge is declining comment because the matter is still pending." Of course, what are pending" are felony cases that have arisen because Roberts wasn't in jail when he should have been.
Sources at the AG's Office say agents doing surveillance of Roberts initiated two of the DUI arrests that led to his 60-day sentence. Both times, according to Phoenix police reports, Roberts had just left one of his usual central Phoenix watering holes in the early afternoon.
The first incident happened last June 21. Police arrested Roberts on charges of DUI and of giving false information to them after he insisted his name was James Edwards. He was released that day on $1,280 bond.
On August 13, Roberts-driving a 1987 Nissan-was arrested near 16th Street and Highland for DUI, lying to a police officer and driving with a suspended license.
On September 24, he failed to show up for a court hearing.
On October 5, he was busted again for DUI-that time his blood-alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit of .10.
Again out on bond, Roberts again failed to show up for court as ordered. A city judge issued a warrant for his arrest November 18. Four days later, Roberts plea-bargained with city prosecutors. He pleaded guilty before Judge Finn to two DUIs and had his license suspended for one year.
Finn sentenced Roberts to the mandatory minimum of 60 days in jail, but, at defense lawyer Tom Foster's request, allowed Roberts to stay free until January 7, despite his previous failures to appear in court.
According to court records, Roberts was to report to jail on January 7 at 6 p.m. and to be released January 8 at 6 a.m. He was ordered to serve the same schedule six days a week and spend all day Sundays in jail. Since his January 10 arrest, however, he's been a full-time prisoner.
Agents from the AG's Office say they were never informed about Roberts' work-furlough arrangement, which they say they would have strenuously opposed. (They learned about it from New Times.) Some of those agents have been on Roberts' tail for 15 years.
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Phoenix police detectives were drawn to Roberts soon after the bombing of Bolles in June 1976 because he was a man who had been in all the wrong places at all the wrong times: Murderer John Adamson and the man accused of hiring him-Max Dunlap-were with Roberts just minutes before Adamson set a bomb beneath Bolles' car. That night, Roberts chartered an airplane to fly Adamson out of town.
But shortly after the bombing, Roberts signed an immunity agreement, an event that still rankles many familiar with the black-hole-like case. He talked a little, and that was it.
The never-ending Bolles case has continued to follow Roberts. Prosecutors are expected to call him to testify at the upcoming retrials of Max Dunlap and his cohort Jimmy Robison, who spent time on Arizona's death row before their convictions were overturned in 1980. Roberts, who hasn't responded to requests for a jailhouse interview, has not indicated whether he will again take the Fifth and avoid having to answer questions that might incriminate him.
LONG LIVE THE DUKE BEFORE AXL'S ATTITUD... v1-29-92