Michael Marin "Burning Man" Trial Under Way -- Judge Kicks New Times Out of Court

As we write this, the attorneys litigating the arson case of State of Arizona v. Michael Marin are presenting their opening statements to a Maricopa County jury in downtown Phoenix.

We planned on blogging about the opposing sides' hope to show in their efforts to win a conviction of the so-called "Burning Man," a once-affluent fellow who fell on hard financial times and now stands accused in the July 2009 torching of his custom Biltmore Estates home.

An obvious motive? Money, insurance money, that is.

Instead, we're back here at the office, after Superior Court Judge Bruce Cohen "precluded" (i.e., booted) us from his courtroom as the openings were about to start, moments after prosecutors served us with a subpoena that suggests we may be called as a "rebuttal" witness should the need arise.

We'll spare you all the legal stuff for now except to say that Marin's lead defense attorney, a nice chap named Andrew Clemency (his surname is the same word that Mr. Marin may be asking for someday) invoked the rule against potential witnesses sitting in and listening to other courtroom testimony.

Our apparent "value" as a prosecution witness is this: We spent hours chatting with Marin for a story published a few months after the big fire. We went to his East Valley home, and we recall speaking with him several times on the telephone.

We also did what lawyers call "due diligence" (we call it "doing our job") and checked out as many sources of information as possible about Marin, a complicated cat with little more than a passing familiarity with the truth on certain issues.

Here is the story that, at this point, is keeping us from continuing to do our job by reporting on a very interesting case.

We will write more about this as the trial progresses and Judge Cohen issues a ruling on what trumps what legally, the First Amendment or the defendant's right to a fair trial.

As to the latter, we can't even come up with a theory on how our presence in the courtroom will jeopardize Marin's constitutional right.

If we are compelled to testify, then we will tell the jurors that, yes, we spoke to the guy and, yes, he gave us the quotes that we chose for publication.

Marin was a most genial host, and we thank him for his extensive quotes.

For the record, no one was injured in the early-morning blaze, not the 50-plus firefighters on the scene and not Marin himself, who famously escaped from his second-story bedroom after donning a scuba mask and employing a ladder.

"Marin's daring, Houdini-like getaway naturally caught the eye of area news media," we wrote in 2009. "Veteran firefighters told TV crews that morning they never had seen anyone don scuba equipment to flee to safety.

"Many in the local news media knew Michael Marin's name from earlier stories.

"Those pieces had included accounts of his two-month Mount Everest expedition, which culminated May 20 on the mountain's summit.

"But Marin had also been in the news for his collection of 18 original etchings by Pablo Picasso, and for his failed attempt...to raffle his Biltmore home months after he'd bought it -- ostensibly to help out a financially strapped crisis center."

Anyway, sorry Mr. Marin, we will be reporting on this trial even if Judge Cohen keeps us out of the courtroom.

We have our ways. 

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin