The criminal speeding case of Brett Mecum, former executive director for the state Republican Party, ended last month after a two-year odyssey through the court system.
Mecum, 32, was fired from his GOP post in May following scandals that included the speeding incident, a stalking complaint and an allegation that he'd told a Goodyear council candidate that she could purchase Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's endorsement for $2,000.
The news media -- including us, for a while -- sort of forgot about Mecum's prosecution for speeding. The main reason: Former Arrowhead Justice of the Peace John Keegan threw out the case days after the high-profile arrest at the state GOP's headquarters. An Arizona Republic story last month, for example, reported that "criminal charges were later dismissed."
In fact, on June 8 -- the same day that Repub story was published -- Mecum was in court accepting a plea deal on the speeding charge. (The guilty plea was ultimately dismissed, as you'll find out if you read on.)
As New Times has learned, the charges of criminal speeding and
reckless driving tossed out two years ago by former JP Keegan, a staunch
photo-enforcement opponent, were later reinstated. Mecum's case then
became, arguably, a time-wasting judicial debacle for nearly everyone
The flap began on a clear night in April of 2009, when the young GOP leader was cruising along the Loop 101 near 59th Avenue in his new Mustang GT.
He'd bought the car following his promotion to executive director,
which came with a higher salary. Feeling a need for speed, Mecum stomped
the gas pedal and pushed the GT to well over 100 mph in the 65-mph
That was back when the Arizona Department of Public Safety,
at the behest of former Governor Janet Napolitano, was running a
full-fledged freeway speed-camera program unlike anything else in the
country. Hundreds of thousands of people received tickets from the cameras
during the program that ended last summer; most people blew them off -- legally -- and never paid a fine.
One of those well-publicized speed-cameras caught Mecum barreling along at 109 mph.
Just weeks before, DPS officials crowed about the arrests of several "super-speeders," as the agency called them, who had also been caught by the cameras.
Although former County Attorney Andrew Thomas had announced in March of 2009
that he would not prosecute "super-speeders" caught with photo enforcement, he reversed that decision in early April, about a week before Mecum's joy-ride.
Thomas' new direction cleared the way for more super-speeder arrests, and to DPS, Mecum was first in line.
On the morning of May 6, 2009, a DPS officer went to Mecum's workplace and handcuffed the GOP director as shocked party officials looked on. (Interestingly enough, the arresting officer was Geoff Jacobs, who was later fired after a questionable internal investigation begun at the
request of his ex-girlfriend's father, current DPS Director Robert Halliday.)
Mecum spent a few hours at the county's 4th Avenue jail before being released on a $550 bond. Two weeks later, Keegan dismissed Mecum's case with prejudice, which usually means it can't be refiled.
Like Mecum, Keegan's an avid conservative. But the move didn't appear to be a special favor -- the JP had tossed thousands of lesser photo-enforcement cases in the previous months because of his belief that the system was unconstitutional. Still, the dismissal brought heavy criticism of Mecum on one right-wing blog.
The speeding case soon grew weirder.
Former deputy county attorney Lisa Aubuchon, Thomas' former go-to gal for political prosecutions, filed an emergency motion on Jun 5, 2009, to set aside the dismissal. But the case had already been turned over the city of Phoenix for prosecution, so Keegan promptly rejected Aubuchon's motion because Thomas' office technically should have no longer been involved.
Phoenix, not wanting to let Mecum off the hook, appealed Keegan's decision to Superior Court.
That November, a Superior Court judge ruled that the case should be given back to a Justice Court. But no one wanted the political hot potato. One by one, JP's in the Justice Court's Northwest region recused themselves because of alleged conflicts of interest. It appeared that the JPs, who
are elected to their posts, were afraid they might anger potential voters by prosecuting a high-ranking GOP official.
Former presiding judge of the JP courts, John Ore, ruled in February of 2010 that the case -- still on appeal -- could proceed in the Arcadia Biltmore District before JP Steven Sarkis.
A few months later, Phoenix city prosecutors filed another motion opposing Keegan's May 2009 dismissal, arguing that a state law authorizing photo enforcement wasn't unconstitutional. On November 10, 2010, records state, Superior Court Judge Crane McClennen agreed with that reasoning, reversed Keegan's dismissal and remanded the case to Sarkis' court for reinstatement of criminal proceedings.
Meanwhile, Mecum's Phoenix attorney, David Kephart, kept pushing the idea that prosecution was "clearly politically motivated." He claimed that Thomas' office wanted Mecum prosecuted in part because of a nasty break-up between Mecum and his former girlfriend, Thomas' chief blogger, Rachel Alexander.
Kephart tells us that Alexander played a role in getting Mecum charged originally, though we weren't able to confirm that.
Alexander, as some of you will recall, is facing a disciplinary hearing this fall along with Aubuchon and her former boss, Thomas, due to allegedly unethical behavior involving the attempted prosecutions of county officials. Kephart tried valiantly to stir all that controversy into Mecum's case, filing motions to delay the case as he sought suspected e-mails about Mecum between Aubuchon and Alexander.
Adding to the mess: Mecum missed a court date in February, resulting in a warrant temporarily being issued for his arrest. Kephart had recently moved offices from Chandler to Phoenix at the time, and says the court had sent paperwork with the court date to the old address. The warrant was quashed two weeks later.
Vicki Hill, chief assistant city prosecutor for Phoenix, tells New Times that her office had no stake in any alleged political games. The city was simply doing its due diligence, she explains, and had "put a lot of investment" into the case.
"We look at the facts -- we're not elected," she says.
The city sought a $572 fine, 30 hours of community service and the jail time he'd already served, Hill says. Prosecutors had previously agreed that if Mecum pleaded guilty to the speeding charge, the city would drop the count of reckless driving, she adds.
So, when Mecum's trial date finally arrived last month, Sarkis gave Mecum the option of taking defensive driving school if he pleaded out on the speeding violation.
Hill says the city had opposed such a move, but Mecum jumped at Sarkis' offer.
Court records state that Mecum pleaded guilty to the speeding charge -- with the stipulation that if he completed defensive driving school, the guilty plea and conviction would be dismissed.
Mecum completed the driving school late last month. Had he blown it off, a staff member at the Justice Court Administration office says, he would automatically have been found responsible on the speeding charge and forced to pay a fine.
We couldn't reach Mecum, but Kephart tells us he considers the case a "success" for his client.
Wasting eight hours of life in a defensive driving class after fighting a ticket for two years sounds more like a loss, actually. And it's obviously no "success" for the city of Phoenix, either.
At least, judging from the state Supreme Court's online case lookup, Mecum doesn't seem to have racked up any more speeding tickets -- meaning the driving public can finally rest easy.
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