Death-Penalty Lawyers Are Making a Killing Off Maricopa Taxpayers

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Carr is African-American.

Nate Carr remains the king of Maricopa County's contract criminal-defense attorneys when it comes to collecting money, even though he hasn't been assigned a new capital case since 2009.

As of June 21, according to a county spreadsheet, Carr had been paid $2.4 million since the start of 2006 for representing accused murderers.

That amounts to about $370,000 per year, a sum that compares favorably to the $123,000 that County Attorney Bill Montgomery earns yearly, the $100,000 that deputy county attorney Eric Basta (chief prosecutor in Naranjo) makes, and the $145,000 that Judge Roland Steinle (who presided at Naranjo's trial) is paid.

Jim Logan of the Office of Public Defender Services makes $164,000 a year.

President Barack Obama is paid $400,000 annually, but he has perks that Carr doesn't.

Close behind Carr is Phoenix attorney Roderick Carter, paid $2.2 million over the same 5 1/2-year stretch, much of it for work as second chair in the extended trial last year of Mark "Baseline Killer" Goudeau.

Carter collected $494,000 from Maricopa County in 2011.

Randy Craig sits third on the money list, at $1.8 million.

As with Carter, much of that sum was from his representation of Goudeau, who now sits on death row.

The $1,800 that Maricopa County paid Carr for his duplicitous "prison interview" invoices is a fraction of the $453,000 he collected in Naranjo over a four-year period that ended with the killer's May 2011 death sentence.

(Taylor Fox made $138,000 in Naranjo as co-counsel, and Stephen Johnson — another key player in this story — billed $98,000 as the defense team's "mitigation specialist," a position that doesn't require a law license.)

On top of Carr's falsified invoices, an examination of invoices submitted by both him and Johnson in Naranjo and other cases over the past half-decade show that both men padded billings as they collected thousands of dollars from Maricopa County every month.

The Naranjo billings reveal that the pair billed for dozens of "team meetings" with Taylor Fox — 58 in Johnson's case and 38 in Carr's — that Fox never submitted invoices for and says he never attended.

"If I attended a team meeting, I would have wanted to get paid for it," Fox said. "If I wasn't there, I wasn't there, and I wouldn't say I was. I don't over-bill or under-bill."

It gets worse.

A review of more than 64 invoices submitted separately for payment by Fox and Carr for work they allegedly did complete together (these so-called "team meetings," court hearings and one-on-one discussions) reveals this:

On average, Nate Carr billed almost three times more hours than co-counsel Fox for identical services supposedly rendered.

Here's a comparison of some billings that the pair submitted separately in early 2011 during jury selection in the Naranjo trial:

• February 21: Carr lists a 6 1/2-hour "team meeting," and Fox bills that same day for a two-hour "team meeting."

• February 23: Carr bills 12 hours and Fox bills 7.2 hours.

• March 2: Carr bills 9.5 hours for "preparing" an expert witness for testimony. Fox charges 3.5 hours for preparing the same witness.

• March 16: Carr bills for a 14-hour day. Fox bills 3.3 hours.

Such was the norm throughout the Naran­jo case, month after month, year after year.

Carr and Fox had other murder clients at the same time and were billing in those cases as well. So was mitigation specialist Steve Johnson, who was reinstated as an attorney in late 2007 — several months after his appointment in Naranjo — after a suspension that lasted four years.

Carr and Johnson appear to have added hours to their invoices whenever they wanted. Perhaps they were emboldened knowing that Jim Logan, the county's gatekeeper of the contract private attorneys, approved whatever amounts they asked for (with one exception regarding Carr).

"My job is to look at every invoice that comes into this office, and I do that," Logan told New Times.

"But I don't think it's fair to expect me to know every last thing, true or not, that may be occurring with every lawyer. No one, including Taylor Fox, alerted me to anything negative about Mr. Carr or Mr. Johnson."

Fox confirmed that he didn't speak to Logan about the two men, despite problems he said he had with their work ethic in Naranjo, or what he suggested was the lack of a work ethic. He said he hasn't spoken with either Carr or Johnson about the case since Israel Naranjo was sentenced to death May 12, 2011.

"I don't know what I would say to him that would be productive," Fox said.

Logan is correct that it would have taken major sleuthing by him to have unearthed Carr's falsified 2010 prison interviews billings.

But this question lingers:

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin