We just returned from the Arizona Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel heard arguments in the curious contempt case of Adam Stoddard.
Readers surely remember the unprecedented (as far as we can tell) case -- about a sheriff's detention officer who got into a pickle last October after lifting attorney-client documents from a defense attorney's file during a court hearing.
To the left is a still shot from the courtroom video that captured the heist on tape. That's detention officer Stoddard to the right of the portly sheriff's deputy holding the paperwork.
In case you would like to revisit the absurd details, we wrote about it extensively in a cover story at the end of last year.
Attorneys for the Sheriff's Office appealed Judge Gary Donahoe's decision to hold Stoddard in contempt of court and, later, to throw him in jail for 10 days after he refused to apologize for pilfering the file as court cameras recorded the moment for posterity (and the judge).
Arpaio attorney Michele Iafrate told the panel: "We are here today because Officer Stoddard believed there was a security concern in a criminal courtroom."
Judge Mo Portley stopped her, noting that "we're beyond that at this point," and that the legal sanctions imposed by Judge Donahoe seemed "classic."
But Iafrate countered that Judge Donahoe had put Stoddard in an impossible and illegal dilemma by ordering him to apologize for alleged wrongdoing to stay out of jail (not that Stoddard ever was in an actual cell -- his accommodations at the Lower Buckeye Jail reportedly were pretty cozy).
Iafrate said Stoddard wouldn't apologize under those circumstances, because he allegedly felt he had done the right thing by raiding the file.
Stoddard said at the contempt hearing before Judge Donahoe that he had happened to see four, non-sequential words sticking out of the defense attorney's legal file: "going to," "steal" and "money."
The words were written by the defendant -- a gangbanger with a long criminal history -- in a letter to his attorney. The context of the words never has been revealed publicly, as Judge Donahoe ordered the rest of the letter sealed.
Craig Mehrens, representing Joanne Cuccia (an attorney for the Office of the Legal Defender), whose file was breached by Stoddard, told the appellate panel: "Officer Stoddard did something that was patently in violation of the Constitution."
Mehrens characterized the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office as an "organization that believes it can go into the [attorney-client] files if it sees a couple of words sticking out of the papers."
That led Judge Lawrence Winthrop to ask Mehrens if he wasn't overstating his case by portraying a "band of sheriff's representatives roaming the [courthouse] halls" and rummaging through private files.
"The whole sheriff's department is behind [Stoddard's] actions and believes that what he did is fine," Mehrens responded. "I will never leave my documents in a courtroom that is guarded by Sheriff Arpaio's [employees]."
Judge Portley told the parties that the court will rule "in due course" on Stoddard's appeal.