One Relieved Judge

A judge who was roundly criticized for releasing a shooting suspect has lost his job.

Maricopa County Presiding Judge Robert Myers says he decided to remove Walter Jackson from the initial-appearance bench in the wake of New Times' story about the release of Dennis Earl Bryley ("Who Sprung Alleged Shooter?" May 9).

"It was a decision that I felt was in the best interests of the court," Myers says. "That's it in a nutshell."

But the controversy over Bryley's April 26 release seems to have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Shortly before the story hit the streets, an informal judicial committee headed by Superior Court Judge Michael Ryan had recommended Jackson's termination.

Jackson retains his job as a pro tem Phoenix Municipal Court judge.
His duties as an initial-appearance judge were to set bail, order conditions of release, appoint attorneys and schedule future hearings during sessions in the basement of the Madison Street Jail. The rapid-fire hearings usually last less than two minutes.

Jackson wasn't available for comment. But several court officials say he alternately has claimed he was misquoted in last week's story--or that he never even spoke to a New Times reporter. (He did, and New Times stands by the quotes.)

Jackson also told colleagues that Judge Ronald Reinstein, who presides over the court's Criminal Division, has an unspecified vendetta against him. Reinstein denies this.

Unchallenged, however, is the fact that Jackson released a man accused of shooting an unarmed security guard in the back.

A county grand jury last week indicted Dennis Bryley on charges of aggravated assault in the July 1995 near-fatal shooting of the security guard in Glendale.

The indictment came in the wake of Bryley's April 25 arrest by Glendale police. That day, a Glendale detective summarized the case against Bryley in a form used by IA judges to make their decisions: ". . . The suspect shot a security guard, causing serious injuries," the detective wrote.

That was one important factor that led a pretrial-services officer to recommend the highest possible bail. The officer also noted that Bryley was on probation for a felony conviction at the time of his arrest, and that the young man allegedly had threatened co-defendants.

But Judge Jackson decided not to follow the pretrial guidelines. He explained on the form that a probation officer had expressed a desire to have Bryley released on his own recognizance. The probation officer strongly denies having made any such recommendation.

In last week's story, Jackson explained his decision to free Bryley: "I don't have the power of God to determine everything about every person."

He went on to say that no prosecutors or the police or the victim attended Bryley's initial appearance to make their case. (Prosecutors, police and victims seldom attend such hearings.)

Bryley's release on his own recognizance was short-lived: Probation officers rearrested him April 30 after the 18-year-old Peoria man allegedly admitted that he'd recently ingested cocaine.

A 1990 New Times story described the often-difficult task faced by judges in initial-appearance court. The piece described the work of Alan LoBue, one of the quintet of jurists then working the basement court.

"We're like interior linemen in football," LoBue said. "We screw up, we get noticed. If I set a low bond on a guy charged with murder, I should get noticed.