Sheriff Arpaio Vs. Superior Court: Accusations of Judge Surveillance; Court to Release Inmates Due to Lack of Deputy Transports


Maricopa County Superior Court Presiding Judge Barbara Mundell accuses Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office of spying on her, a claim the MCSO says is "ludicrous."

In an exclusive interview Mundell gave to Channel 12 (KPNX-TV), the judge says workers at her home have noticed marked sheriff's vehicles driving by, and once spotted what appeared to be a deputy's unmarked car.

Arpaio's spokesman, Lieutenant Brian Lee, also claims in an e-mail to the media that Gary Donahoe (pictured), presiding judge of the court's criminal side, is "making good" on a "promise made to Sheriff's staff to discredit the Sheriff." Lee is referring to a statement by Donahoe in an April e-mail to the Sheriff's Office, in which the judge states "something isn't right" when Arpaio can deploy 200 deputies for a crime sweep but can't get jail inmates to court on time.

The rhetoric is just the latest in an ongoing battle between the governmental entities that appears to be rooted in money problems: The MCSO budget is being cut while the court is getting a fancy, new building.

A year and a half ago, Arpaio had an employee submit a massive public records request to the Superior Court for e-mails and other documents of judges, the court administrator, and various aides. The underlying reason for the sheriff's interest in the court's judges isn't clear. But he sure seems ticked over the perceived political posturing. According to Lee's e-mail:


It is clear they have learned the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is in the process of preparing a formal judicial ethics complaint against Judges Donahoe, Baca and Mundell. Their latest action is a clear attempt to tactically defuse the formal ethics complaint as well as other legal actions pending by this Office.


Other legal actions pending? Whatever could Lee mean? Will deputies soon be rounding up judges and throwing them in Tent City? Who would put it past them?

E-mails requested from the Superior Court show Donahoe and court staff are upset that sheriff's deputies have failed to transport jail inmates on time to their court dates, resulting in needless delays and the potential for injustice. Says one employee:


We end up with attorneys waiting for two hours, victims waiting, interpreters waiting, family members waiting, etc., all doing nothing until the [group of inmates] comes up.


After months of trying to deal with the problem, an April 23 e-mail by Donahoe threatens that unless more deputies are assigned to ensure inmates get to court in the morning, he'll make sure there are fewer inmates in the future. Donahoe tells a sheriff's employee and court officials that he'll allow jail inmates to be released more often, and that the consequences of his decision will be on the sheriff's head:

Of course, in releasing the defendants to the community, the court will be citing the sheriff's decision to give non-mandated services priority over the mandate to service the court. The sheriff can explain to the public why the release of defendants awaiting trial has become necessary.

Harsh. But we can't help but wonder whether "It's the Sheriff's fault" will work with the public if an inmate who's released by the judge murders someone. In an e-mail a week later, Donahoe makes his point by criticizing Arpaio's anti-illegal-immigrant crime sweeps:

It doesn't appear that things have improved. 200 deputies and posse members for a crime sweep, but insufficient deputies to carry out the mandated function of transporting defendants to court -- something just isn't right here.


The Sheriff's Office, for its part, says the Superior Court has increased the workload for deputies by "continously adding more courts and proceedings." This statement by Lee seems disingenuous, on face value, because it makes sense the court would only add more courtrooms and proceedings when it needs to because of its caseload. Also, Arpaio's political ally, Maricopa County Andrew Thomas, presumably has some control over the amount of court proceedings -- it can't all be the judges' fault.

As far as the alleged surveillance of the judge -- it's hardly in the realm of the impossible. Other county officials have made the same claim, and the county billed a local firm $14,600 to sweep for bugs in county offices.

That being said, it would be nice if someone could get a picture of these unmarked sheriff's cars following judges and other officials.

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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.