Felony prosecutor Juan Martinez is despised by many defense attorneys, mainly because he relentlessly plays hardball on the job. He rarely plea bargains, seemingly is always in trial, prepares his cases meticulously, and usually wins.
No matter what Martinez's adversaries may think of him personally or professionally, though, no one could ever righteously accuse him of being lazy.
And those on both sides of the fence -- prosecution and defense -- agree Martinez is just about the last person they expected to get slapped around recently by Maricopa County Superior Court presiding judge Colin Campbell, for allegedly causing a delay of the first-degree-murder trial of David Wayne Carr.
But it happened at a public hearing May 31 when the powerful judge accused Martinez of "flagrantly" breaking the rules in the Carr case. An angry Campbell then ordered Martinez to prove at a subsequent hearing why he shouldn't be held in criminal contempt, a charge that can mean up to six months in jail for the accused.
What did Martinez do to merit such punishment? Did he destroy evidence, lie, or, God forbid, treat the judge rudely?
Simply put, Martinez was tardy in providing assistant public defender Dennis Jones with the names and addresses of all possible witnesses he might call at Carr's trial, which had been scheduled for May 30.
That failure, according to Campbell, meant Jones couldn't be adequately prepared for trial on time, a cardinal sin in the fast-track justice system championed by the judge and other jurists.
The case of the Superior Court vs. Juan Martinez, which ended rather tepidly August 5 with a letter of apology from the prosecutor to the judge, underscores the schism between the judiciary and the bar that continues to widen at the county courthouse.
The contempt case was "settled" only after County Attorney Rick Romley had hired heavy-hitter attorney (and former judge himself) Mel McDonald to defend Martinez. For its part, the court hired John Lundin, a veteran Phoenix barrister who chairs the Arizona Commission on Judicial Performance Review, to serve as "special prosecutor" in its case against Martinez.
"Juan technically did violate the law by not submitting the names of his potential witnesses on time," McDonald tells New Times. "But it wasn't done to subvert justice, and no one can honestly argue otherwise. It was a real-life situation, with Juan working on murder trial after trial, and he and the defense attorney not being able to coordinate on interviews and other things. I didn't look forward to questioning Juan's accuser, Judge Campbell, on the witness stand, in front of a jury. But I would have. And I'm convinced we had a winner in this case."
The clash between Campbell and Martinez came during a session of the court's so-called "continuance panel," a controversial practice that Campbell started soon after he took the helm in July 2000. The panel -- actually one senior judge -- meets regularly with a roomful of attorneys to consider requests for trial postponements of more than five days.
(The panel was formed amid increasing public concern about the length of time it often takes to resolve criminal cases.)
Most lawyers in the criminal-justice system consider the practice of having to plead for more preparation time personally demeaning and rarely in the best interests of their clients. And many judges say privately it irks them that the "continuance panel" has usurped many of the time-tested duties of trial judges, like deciding when it is appropriate to schedule trials.
On May 22, defense attorney Jones asked the trial judge in the Carr case to issue sanctions against Martinez for not providing him with a list of potential witnesses and other materials. Jones also asked for a four-month postponement of David Carr's murder trial. The 50-year-old Carr is charged in the July 2001 shooting death of another Valley man whose remains were found in the mountains north of town.
The request for delay landed the Carr case before Judge Campbell, who was manning the "continuance panel" on May 31. Campbell -- who declined to comment on the matter -- clearly didn't accept Martinez's explanation that his failure to file the witness list hadn't delayed prosecution of the case.
Instead, the judge accused Martinez in writing of "willfully" violating the rules of the court. The word willful is important, because, by definition, a person cannot be held in criminal contempt unless he or she intentionally ". . . obstructs the administration of justice, or lessens the dignity and authority of the court."
That, says Paul Ahler, the chief deputy at the County Attorney's Office, just never happened.
"We were extremely upset over here by what Judge Campbell was accusing Juan of," says Ahler, noting that Martinez twice has won his office's award as prosecutor of the year. "Juan is an extremely hard worker who plays hard, but fair. He could conceivably have lost his ticket to practice law because of this. We decided that we had to fight this charge as hard as we could, and we did."
In court papers filed in the Carr case, Martinez pointed out that defense attorney Jones himself hadn't filed a "notice of defenses" until mid-May, "about five months late in violation of the [rules]. Presumably, this is also a willful' and flagrant' violation."
Martinez wouldn't discuss the brouhaha, saying only that he's still planning to prosecute David Carr at trial, now scheduled to start September 10.
"That's about all I should comment on," he says. "I have to work in that courthouse."
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.