Phoenix Wants Secret Court Hearing; Lawyers Don't Want Mayor Phil Gordon's Security Officers to Publicly Testify About Logs Tracking Gordon's Daily Activities
Phoenix city attorneys want to shut out the public from a court hearing on Monday that will help a judge decide whether to force the city to release logs kept by Mayor Phil Gordon's publicly funded security detail.
Monday's hearing is the result of a lawsuit filed against Phoenix by Judicial Watch, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., after the city refused to release those records.
The think tank has linked those logs to Gordon's girlfriend and former political fundraiser, Elissa Mullany. Judicial Watch has said it wants to review the records to "shed light on possible misuse of taxpayer resources to further a personal relationship" between Gordon and Mullany.
In a motion filed last week, Phoenix City Attorney Gary Verburg asked Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Rea to privately review a portion of Gordon's security-detail logs and to privately hear testimony from the members of the mayor's security detail. Read Verburg's motion.
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Verburg not only wants to keep the public out of the courtroom, he doesn't even want lawyers for Judicial Watch around when the cops testify.
Phoenix police officers -- sergeants Rick Fricke, a former member of Gordon's security detail, and Scott Masino, a current security officer for the mayor -- are lined up to testify during the hearing.
(And New Times has learned that another potential witness for the city will be Paul Johnson, Gordon's longtime BFF and a former Phoenix mayor.)
Keeping Judicial Watch lawyers out of the courtroom would prevent them from cross-examining the witnesses. Phoenix attorneys suggest that Judicial Watch can simply submit questions for the witnesses in writing.
Phoenix officials are concerned that attorneys for Judicial Watch will ask the witnesses questions about "specific facts" in the contents of the security logs, according to court records. The city maintains that releasing those logs or revealing specific details about what's in them would expose Gordon to physical harm, invade his personal privacy, hinder his "deliberative process," and subject him (and the city) to "undue burden or harassment."
Judicial Watch argues, in part, that a secret hearing violates the Arizona Constitution, which dictates "justice in all cases shall be administered openly." They also contend that barring them -- as plaintiffs -- from the proceedings violates their rights to "due process."
In court records, Judicial Watch said that, absent "compelling reasons," the court hearing should be open to the public. Its lawyers also said that "given the public's compelling interest in knowing the contents of public records, the City should not be allowed to present an unchallenged view of the [security-detail logs]." Read Judicial Watch's response.
Up until October 2009, records were kept by Gordon's security detail to track where they picked up and dropped off Gordon on a daily basis, as well as who traveled with him in his vehicle. The logs would also reveal whether the security detail was used inappropriately to shuttle around individuals other than Gordon.
Some of the records requested are now more than a year old. Judicial Watch requested them in December, but they were initially requested by the media in July 2009.
The city continues to withhold the documents, even though Phoenix police officers assigned to Gordon's security detail admitted under oath (to Judicial Watch lawyers during depositions) that the logs "do not include state secrets or other highly confidential information" and "merely contain information about what the Mayor's Security Detail did and where it went on a daily basis."