News

DOWN TO THE WIRE

Page 2 of 3

No one ever complained that people were passing laws at the State Capitol because legislators were being paid off.

Isn't it ironic that the biggest fish they caught in this net was Walker, the only one who had actually attempted to write a bill making gambling legal?

How could Walker be guilty of accepting bribes to do something she had been championing all along?

@rule:
@body:I went to the sixth floor of the County Building the other day and walked into Judge Michael Ryan's courtroom shortly after 9 a.m.

There were fewer than a dozen spectators in the court. This was on a day when Stedino, the state's star witness, was scheduled to retake the witness stand for cross-examination. They were winding down the defense in the trial of Ron Tapp, the former bail bondsman, who is being tried along with Walker. The courtroom now has an air of unreality, almost like something out of Franz Kafka. Perhaps it's because the defendants, the lawyers, the judge and the jury have all been together too long.

There are 507 videotapes stacked on a shelf that runs along the front of the courtroom, just below the level of Judge Ryan's bench. Each videotape is in its own box. The contents of each box have been marked carefully for identification.

During this trial, all of those tapes have been played. As a result, boredom has engulfed all the participants, the jury and the court personnel included. This is a state of boredom that can only be described as massive.

Murray Miller, Walker's lawyer, sits at the first defense table. He wears a dark suit. By now his face is set in a perpetual grimace. Miller seems to have reached the point of exhaustion. He has worn himself out writing motion after motion and ending with a heroic cross-examination of Stedino that lasted for days. His son, Richard K. Miller, also a lawyer and an employee of Murray Miller's firm, has been at his father's side throughout the trial.

Some lawyers criticize Miller for taking the Walker case. They look at it only from a business standpoint. You won't see the lawyers who advertise how they can get you off from drunk-driving charges taking a case like this.

There is an easy way to become as rich as a lawyer in this town. One of the wealthiest lawyers of them all specializes in drug cases. He never goes to trial.

"Here's what I can do for you that nobody else can," he tells the drug dealer. "You pay me up front. I will go to my contacts inside the police department. We will arrange a plea. You'll get minimum time. But you will have to give them someone else in the drug business."
Payments are high. There is not only cash, but also fancy cars and houses--sometimes owned by the parents of the drug dealer.

And when the police move on the next drug dealer in line, quite often he has been referred to this same lawyer. There is an endless circle of moneymaking in this type of lawyering. It is good business, and you don't have to spend five months in a courtroom on a single case, as Murray Miller just did.

Of course, Miller knew when he got into the case that he wasn't going to make money. He took it because he thought the issue was important enough to litigate. If that makes him a bad businessman, it also makes him a compassionate lawyer. Walker sits alongside Miller. She sits erect. Her elbows are on the table in front of her. More surprising, she doesn't seem tired. Frightened is a better description.

At the defense table directly behind Miller and Walker sits Larry Debus with his client, Ron Tapp, the bail bondsman.

Right now Debus is like the safety in the biggest football game of the year. Debus, with his skills at cross-examination and oratory, is the only one who can turn the tide.

At first glance, you can see that Debus is wired. He has been working for weeks to prepare for his cross-examination of Stedino. @rule:

@body:The moment everyone has been awaiting is about to begin. Stedino strides confidently into the courtroom. He enters through the rear door and goes directly to the witness stand.

Stedino grins. He is wearing what appears to be a freshly pressed gray suit. He is a big man, weighing better than 220 pounds. But Stedino doesn't look like the mobster he portrayed in the videotapes.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Fitzpatrick