The Law's Man

Randy Wakefield won vindication in Justice Court last Thursday, when a judge dismissed criminal charges against the veteran county prosecutor.

Phoenix city prosecutors failed to convince Judge Sam Goodman that Wakefield had broken grand jury secrecy laws when he told a family member about an investigation involving his son, Craig Wakefield. The judge tossed out the case soon after hearing testimony from prosecutor Jim Richter's key witnesses--two high-ranking members of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

Wakefield, whose distinguished law enforcement career ended over the incident, could have been sentenced to a jail term if he'd been convicted in the misdemeanor case.

"I had been in law enforcement for 35 years without a stain to my reputation," a jubilant Wakefield said after his acquittal, "and all of a sudden some son of a bitch was reading me my Miranda rights. I didn't think I had done anything wrong to start with, but it feels super that the judge agreed with Joe [defense attorney Chornenky] and tossed the thing. A good reputation means everything in life, and those folks at my old office tried their best to ruin mine."

The 62-year-old Wakefield earned an excellent reputation as a straight-talking type during 20 years as an Arizona highway patrolman, then 15 years as a prosecutor.

The strange turn of events that led to his prosecution began last June 4, when his supervisor and longtime friend Jim Blake asked him if he knew a Craig Wakefield. Wakefield told Blake that Craig was his son. Blake told him Craig's name had come up in secret grand jury testimony as a suspect in a racially charged New River clash during which one man was beaten with a pipe.

Blake's revelation forced Wakefield to choose between loyalty to his family and his job. Wakefield later admitted he had told his daughter-in-law, Jennifer Wakefield, about the assault investigation, but never mentioned a grand jury. He said he'd done so, in part, because his son has a bad temper and he wanted to ensure that Craig would submit peacefully if police contacted him--which they still haven't.

Wakefield's talks with his daughter-in-law elicited that one of Craig Wakefield's friends--not Craig--might have wielded the pipe in the New River assault. Wakefield soon told Jim Blake about the new information.

"I told him, thinking I was helping with the investigation," Wakefield tells New Times. "I knew it didn't clear my son. Even now, I don't know if he did or didn't do it."

Blake in turn reported the circumstances to his superiors, which quickly led to Wakefield's suspension with pay and subsequent retirement. Blake--clearly the instigator of the chain of events--told Wakefield's attorney in a pretrial interview that he didn't believe charges should have been filed.

But the County Attorney's Office did submit the case to city prosecutors, who then brought charges against Wakefield. How Blake evaded prosecution himself--especially after he told an investigator he'd spoken to Wakefield about the grand jury investigation partly as a friend--is unclear.

The law in question states:
"A person commits unlawful grand jury disclosure if such person knowingly discloses to another the nature or substance of any grand jury testimony or any decision, result or other matter attending a grand jury proceeding, which is required by law to be kept secret, except in the proper discharge of his official duties."

A spokesman for the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys' Advisory Council says Wakefield was the first prosecutor in state history accused of violating that law. That may be because the law is too vague, according to several witnesses for Wakefield during a pretrial hearing.

Testifying at that hearing were county prosecutors George Mount and Hugo Zettler--whose own run-ins with their boss, County Attorney Rick Romley, are well-documented--former Superior Court Judge David Derickson, defense attorney Richard Hertzberg (Wakefield's foe in numerous high-profile obscenity trials in the mid-1980s) and former County Attorney Tom Collins.

Wakefield has issued a "demand letter" to Maricopa County, a formality that often precedes the filing of a lawsuit. "We're going to file," Wakefield confirms. "And we're going to win."

The lawsuit is expected to include allegations that the County Attorney's Office is systematically targeting older prosecutors for dismissal or forced retirement, in favor of younger, lower-paid, more pliant replacements. Office supervisors say that premise is ludicrous.

These days, Wakefield is working as a sole practitioner, a defense attorney--a curious twist for a lifetime lawman.

"I've been having a great time seeing how the other half lives," Wakefield says. "Hell, I was the 'other half' until I got cleared. It's not a good feeling being charged with something, especially when you feel that you didn't do anything wrong.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin