Maricopa County Craziness

Officer's Detention Stalls Cases in Criminal Judge's Court; Staffing Shortages a Problem in Other Courts, too, Arpaio's Office Says


Inmates aren't getting transported to the courtroom of Maricopa County Superior Judge Lisa Flores because the Sheriff's Office hasn't replaced Adam Stoddard, the detention officer in jail on a contempt-of-court order.

If you've been following this case, you'll recall that Stoddard had been assigned to Flores' court on the day that he snatched papers from a defense attorney's file. The court's presiding criminal judge, Gary Donahoe, later ordered Stoddard to report to jail unless he apologized to public defender Joanne Cuccia for taking the papers. Stoddard wouldn't apologize and has been in jail since Tuesday -- though you'll have to take the word of the Sheriff's Office on that, since where he's being "confined" is a secret. Overshadowing all of this is are Sheriff Joe Arpaio's claims that Donahoe is carrying out a political vendetta against him by using Stoddard as a political pawn.

Here's how this flap is seeping down to the daily workings of the court system: On two occasions, when Flores' assistant called the Sheriff's Office to find out why criminal defendants aren't showing up for their hearings, she was told "your deputy is in jail," says Jessica Funkhouser, special counsel to the Superior Court.

Talk about political pawns -- the jailed criminal defendants who have been assigned to Flores' court are totally getting screwed. 

Defendants out on bail or otherwise not incarcerated aren't being affected, just inmates. For them, justice is being delayed.

UPDATE: Deputy Chief David Trombi claims that current staffing shortages mean inmates haven't been transported to several courtrooms -- it's not just Flores' being affected. Stoddard was assigned to Flores' court, and "I can't replace him," says Trombi. "I'm doing everything I can to service the other courts."

(Interestingly, it was the shortage of detention officers that led Donahoe back in May to criticize the Sheriff's Office, when led, in turn, to Sheriff Arpaio's claim of a vendetta).

Funkhouser later confirmed that other courtrooms probably have been affected by the paucity of detention officers.

Trombi says he hadn't heard that anyone had made statements to Flores' assistant about Stoddard. But, of course, it's true that Stoddard is in jail, he adds.

"There's nothing personal going on with Judge Flores -- nothing whatsoever," Trombi says.

It may not be personal, but it seems probable that Flores' court -- as ground zero in the Stoddard affair -- will be the last one to get a detention-officer replacement.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.