By Ray Stern
The arrest of Dan Pochoda, legal director for the state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, was yet another example of the heavy-handedness by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. Pochoda stopped off at anti-Sheriff Arpaio demonstration at Pruitt's Furniture last November and was arrested by deputies for trespassing.
But a judge has finally set things straight. Pochoda was found not guilty today by Maricopa County Justice of the Peace pro tempore David H. Fletcher, who ruled after five hours of testimony by both sides.
The ruling must have been quite a blow to Lisa Aubuchon, a high-ranking member of Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas' staff. Aubuchon, the head of Thomas' pretrial division, is a prosecution heavyweight who was presumably brought into the Pochoda case to avoid exactly this kind of embarrassing conclusion. But Thomas should have known better -- Aubuchon produced similar debacles in two other cases that garnered lots of media attention, Chandler K9 cop Thomas Lovejoy and Ajo Al's restaurant.
Aubuchon seems to be an example of how experience doesn't always mean results.
Here's the press release the ACLU put out this evening:
ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Found "Not Guilty" on Trespass Charge
PHOENIX - Maricopa County Justice of the Peace pro tempore David H. Fletcher today ruled that ACLU Foundation of Arizona Legal Director Dan Pochoda did not engage in any unlawful behavior prior to his November 3rd arrest by Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies outside the Pruitt furniture store in Phoenix.
The "not guilty" ruling came after nearly five hours of testimony about the events leading up to Pochoda's arrest last year during a large demonstration held outside the furniture store. Pochoda, who attended the protest for a few minutes to speak with one of the organizers, was stopped by officers as he was attempting to leave the premises and then arrested for criminal trespass, a third degree misdemeanor that rarely leads to anything more than a summons to appear in court. Pochoda, a constitutional law expert with more than 35 years experience, was later hauled off to jail and detained for nearly 12 hours.
Maricopa County Attorney's Office Bureau Chief Lisa Aubuchon argued that Pochoda trespassed on the Pruitt's property by remaining on the property and questioning deputies after he had been ordered by law enforcement to stop.
Attorneys Tim Eckstein and Jean-Jacques Cabou, of the law firm of Osborn Maledon, represented Pochoda and argued that he did, in fact, comply with police orders and was arrested only after he introduced himself as the ACLU Foundation of Arizona's chief lawyer.
"This was yet another instance of Sheriff Arpaio and his deputies using their positions of authority to violate the rights of individuals with the courage to question their actions," said Cabou. "We're glad the court saw through this and acquitted Mr. Pochoda of the charge against him. This is a case that never should have been started."
"Dan was trying to leave the property when he was ordered to stop, after which he was arrested for trespassing," Eckstein added. "The court was quick to recognize how absurd it was to prosecute someone under these circumstances."
Eckstein also noted that the assignment of a senior prosecutor to handle a misdemeanor case typically assigned to a lawyer just out of law school "was a waste of taxpayer resources indicative of the differential, biased, and politically-motivated treatment that this case has received since its inception."