Judge Accuses ADOC Director Ryan of 'Disrespect for Rule of Law'; Compares Him to Arpaio

A federal judge hauled Arizona Department of Corrections director Charles Ryan into court this morning and accused him of trying to undermine the rule of law.

In July, after hearing allegations that Department of Corrections staff had retaliated against inmates who testified in court about the poor quality of medical care in state prisons, Judge David K. Duncan issued an official order telling ADOC not to "harass, intimidate, or otherwise retaliate against" witnesses.

Afterwards, Ryan sent his staff a bizarre email in which he told them, "You all deserve better," and called the judge's decision "disappointing."

Needless to say, Duncan wasn't too pleased.

"You sent an email directing staff to comply with my order, but you included language that challenged the legitimacy of that order," he told Ryan on Tuesday morning.

"I would think that this would be something that you of all people would understand, as you supervise tens of thousands of people who did not follow the law."

Without explicitly naming Joe Arpaio or Donald Trump, Duncan drew a comparison to "the recently convicted Sheriff in our county who thought he could do as he wished" and "references to the 'so-called judge.'"

"All of this disrespect for the rule of law is something I have never experienced or seen in nearly 30 years of being a lawyer, or in 16 years as a judge," he said.

The Department of Corrections' lawyer, Daniel Struck, fired back.

"First of all, let me say that Director Ryan has great respect for the law," he told Judge Duncan, dismissing inmates' claims of harassment and intimidation as "hearsay upon hearsay."

Accusing correctional officers of retaliation, he said, "is something prisoners go to when they believe something’s happening that they don’t like."

Duncan rejected this argument, later commenting, "The witnesses in my court seemed incredibly credible to me. It may be that they’re not telling the truth about retaliation, but there was nothing that gave any hint of that when they testified in front of me."

Ryan, a slightly stooped man with a white toothbrush mustache and gruff demeanor, was fairly subdued when he took his turn on the stand. He didn't look too thrilled about having to appear in court.

"Do you believe it was respectful to the rule of law when you told your staff that the order was disappointing?" Don Specter of the Prison Law Office asked him.

"I don’t believe it was disrespectful," Ryan answered.

"Don't you believe that some people who read that email could have taken it to mean you were trying to undermine the legitimacy of the court’s order?"

"No, I don't."

Before letting him go home for the day, Judge Duncan took the opportunity to rebuke Ryan for repeatedly failing to live up to the promises he'd made when agreeing to settle the Parsons v. Ryan lawsuit.

"In all these years, you haven’t managed to accomplish what I thought would be easy when we settled the case — which is compliance with the stipulation," he said.

Recently, Duncan added, he visited a prison health clinic that was so hot that his hearing aid was destroyed from sweating so much. That worried him, because inmates who are taking medications that make them extremely sensitive to heat have to use that same clinic.

"Let me assure you that the last thing I want to do is micromanage your case," he told Ryan. "I only do that because you haven't delivered what you've promise to deliver."

He begged Ryan, "Get me out of this business."

"With all due respect, sir, I want you out of this case as bad as everyone else," Ryan replied.

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Antonia Noori Farzan is a staff writer at New Times and an honors graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Before moving to Arizona, she worked for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.