Stern's still got his ticket, but his name wasn't on the court's docket...
As I mentioned in my post on harassed actor Nick Tarr last week, one of the MCSO's standard intimidation moves is to cite or arrest someone they want to "punish," then never file the ticket or the complaint with the court. Tarr stated this happened to him when his bogus 2002 citation for allegedly "impersonating" a highway patrolman was dropped the day before he was supposed to go to court.
Something similar has occurred to my colleague, New Times reporter Ray Stern. As part of the same nighttime sweep by Sheriff Joe's Selective Enforcement Unit that nabbed Village Voice Media honchos Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin, Stern was cited for the b.s. charge of "disorderly conduct." His real offense? Arguing with PHX lawyer Michele Iafrate earlier that day over whether or not taking digital pics of public docs is covered under AZ's public records law.
As discussed in this recent Bird column, legal experts agree that you can take digital pics of public records under the AZ law. That is, it is not precluded by the statute. But Iafrate objected to Stern taking digital photos of Sheriff's office press releases in her office. And after a brief but civil disagreement, Stern left, as was requested by Iafrate.
For reasons as yet unknown, the Sheriff's office and its sinister Selective Enforcement Unit got involved. Iafrate and her underlings claimed Stern caused a commotion in their office, that he had disturbed the peace of Iafrate's legal sanctum sanctorum by verbally jousting with her for a couple of minutes. You'd think a legal beagle would be not be boggled by such give and take, but in Iafrate's case, she was so flustered by someone who didn't agree with her that she called in the county gendarmes! Tough as nails Iafrate is not, unless we're talkin' about Lee Press-Ons.
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Why is Iafrate representing the Sheriff's office, and why do New Times journos have to pick up and examine MCSO documents there? How much of the taxpayer's money is being wasted on this argument-averse lady esquire? And why did Iafrate call the Sheriff's office instead of the PHX Police Department? Maybe because the PHX PD would have laughed their asses off at the complaint? We're working on finding all this out. In any case, when Stern reported to court last week on the date and time listed on his ticket, his name was nowhere on the docket, and no one seems to know where the complaint has gone. Into someone's square file, probably.
This still sucks because the Selective Enforcement Unit could, hypothetically, come back at a later date and charge Stern. It would be unusual, but no more unusual than an "elite" plainclothes unit delivering a citation to someone's home in the middle of the night. So this matter will still be hanging over Stern, a little Kafkaesque mind-fuck from our pals at Selective Enforcement.
"The charge is ludicrous and the circumstances in which it was issued even more so," Stern told me after making his court date. "The Sheriff’s Office abused its power in issuing me that bogus citation. That's lame."
According to Stern's lawyer, the County Attorney claims to know nothing about the matter. Now isn't that convenient? The Selective Enforcement Unit can go anywhere it wants, cite anyone it wants, arrest anyone it wants, and the County Attorney casually looks the other way. Nah, this ain't Guatemala, Bolivia or Venezuela, people. It's Maricopa frickin' County, and except for the Sheriff's office's bully-boy tactics, it's lovely this time of year.