Jail was no place for detention officer Stoddard, appeals court says

By Nick R. Martin | April 6th, 2010 | 2:13 pm | 30 Comments »

Adam Stoddard
Adam Stoddard

Maricopa County detention officer Adam Stoddard should have never been sent to jail for sneaking a document from the confidential files of a defense attorney, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled today.

A three-judge panel decided [PDF] that, while Stoddard’s actions did break rules of the court, forcing him to spend time behind bars because he refused to hold a news conference and publicly apologize for his actions was too harsh a penalty. The judges sent the case back to the lower court to find a new, lighter punishment for the detention officer.

“We’re happy,” said Stoddard’s attorney, Tom Liddy, after the decision was published. “Ordering a press conference was absurd. We knew it. They knew it.”

Stoddard’s case rose to national attention last year after he was caught on a courtroom security video taking a handwritten letter from the files of a defense attorney while her back was turned.

The attorney, Joanne Cuccia, cried foul, saying that the attorney-client privilege had been violated. But Stoddard said he saw the words “going to,” “steal” and “money” on the letter and believed a crime was about to take place.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe later determined the letter was harmless and found Stoddard in contempt of court for taking it. The judge ordered Stoddard to hold a news conference to apologize for the gaffe.

But Stoddard refused, saying he stood by his actions. In turn, Donahoe sent him to jail for 10 days in December for defying his order.

Tuesday’s ruling essentially said that Donahoe was right to dole out a punishment, but he was wrong to make Stoddard choose between apologizing and going to jail.

The appeals court recommended that Stoddard be forced to pay a fine or go through extra training in “courtroom decorum,” but it left that decision up to the superior court.

The attorney who first recommended that Stoddard be punished for his actions said he was “frustrated” by the court’s decision to throw out the tougher punishment.

“I still can’t understand why it is so horrible to require someone to say ‘I’m sorry,'” said Craig Mehrens, who was brought on to represent Cuccia, the original defense attorney in the case. “All he had to do was say, ‘I’m sorry. I made a mistake.'”

Mehrens pointed out that every judge who has heard the case has agreed Stoddard broke some serious rules of court conduct. “Yet what has happened?” he said. “Well, they have suggested maybe a fine.”

Mehrens also noted that any fine will likely be paid with taxpayer funds rather than out of the detention officer’s pocket. In numerous other cases where Maricopa County Sheriff’s employees have been fined, their employer has picked up the tab.

“I don’t see a lot of justice,” Mehrens said.

Still, Stoddard’s attorney said the detention officer has learned a serious lesson about court ethics.

“The fact of the matter is that Adam Stoddard is not going to make that mistake again,” said Liddy, “He knows about the attorney-client privilege and he understands the breadth of it.”

It’s not clear yet which judge will decide Stoddard’s new fate, but one thing is certain: It won’t be Donahoe. The longtime judge retired last week.


  • To be clear, the court did not say that there was anything wrong with ordering an apology. They never got that far. Any lawyer who claims that is BSing you. What they decided was that in civil contempt, the sentence has to be geared towards future prevention and not retroactive punishment. Since they appeals court didn’t see any way that forcing an apology would move towards preventing it from happening again, then it wasn’t an appropriate sentence for that limited reason. That’s where the fine or training comes in, because one could presume that a fine would give someone a reason to not risk it next time, or training.

    What I would like to know is whether or not the court can take into account the history of the Sheriff paying fines out of the public coffers, and “adjust” the amount appropriately. The fine has to be big enough to get the attention of the one paying it if it is going to have any prophylactic effect.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this Nick. I wasn’t aware Donohoe had retired last week, so for the first time I understand why the appeal decision took until now to be handed down.

    I guess it doesn’t count much if the county is going to pick up the tab for any fines assessed, but I really had thought only requiring an apology was way too easy on Stoddard. Likewise with the ten day vacation he got in a hotel complete with internet, etc., all at the county’s expense. It would be fitting to send him for additional training, because he obviously needs it.

  • To be clear, the court did not say that there was anything wrong with ordering an apology. They never got that far. Any lawyer who claims that is BSing you. What they decided was that in civil contempt, the sentence has to be geared towards future prevention and not retroactive punishment. Since they appeals court didn't see any way that forcing an apology would move towards preventing it from happening again, then it wasn't an appropriate sentence for that limited reason. That's where the fine or training comes in, because one could presume that a fine would give someone a reason to not risk it next time, or training.

    What I would like to know is whether or not the court can take into account the history of the Sheriff paying fines out of the public coffers, and “adjust” the amount appropriately. The fine has to be big enough to get the attention of the one paying it if it is going to have any prophylactic effect.

  • StormAZ

    Thanks for this Nick. I wasn't aware Donohoe had retired last week, so for the first time I understand why the appeal decision took until now to be handed down.

    I guess it doesn't count much if the county is going to pick up the tab for any fines assessed, but I really had thought only requiring an apology was way too easy on Stoddard. Likewise with the ten day vacation he got in a hotel complete with internet, etc., all at the county's expense. It would be fitting to send him for additional training, because he obviously needs it.

  • Anonymous

    While the Arizona Court of Appeals is parsing about this, one hopes that the Public Integrity Section of the USDOJ is looking at this. Stoddard CLEARLY violated the rights of defendant Lozano under the color of law, violating 18 USC 241. One could also extrapolate that a simple theft charge could have been leveled against Stoddard and Deputy Lard-Ass for stealing the documents in the first place. I have no idea why Joanne Cuccia failed to move the court to dismiss the charges against Lozano summarily on 6th Amendment grounds.

  • Shar Pei

    While the Arizona Court of Appeals is parsing about this, one hopes that the Public Integrity Section of the USDOJ is looking at this. Stoddard CLEARLY violated the rights of defendant Lozano under the color of law, violating 18 USC 241. One could also extrapolate that a simple theft charge could have been leveled against Stoddard and Deputy Lard-Ass for stealing the documents in the first place. I have no idea why Joanne Cuccia failed to move the court to dismiss the charges against Lozano summarily on 6th Amendment grounds.

    • Jay Starkey

      since we don’t know what was on the paper, let’s assume (i know i know) that what he saw in plain sight alrmed him to collect it as evidence in some other matter not pertaining to the current case. I.e. you stop a driver for speeding and notice a large bag of weed on the seat which justifies a search of the car. That being said, He should have stated such at the time, which would have given the judge the opportunity to examine thepaper andagree or correct him and restore everything (including the copies presumedly made).

      Personal lay oppinion, the judge should have taken control of her court room and dealt with it right there instead of waisting all that time worrying about her schedule, trying reschedule with the attorneys.

      A word to the wise to the attorney, if you dont want people seering it, dont leave it out in plain sight.

      • Mr. Bill

        Wow. Did you watch the video? He flipped the folder OPEN. It was closed.

      • Mr. Bill

        Also? Carrying water for Arpaio’s goons EIGHT YEARS LATER is not a good look.

      • Mememeee

        They should of legally hanged him

  • jamesonjohnson

    While the Arizona Court of Appeals is parsing about this, one hopes that the Public Integrity Section of the USDOJ is looking at this. Stoddard CLEARLY violated the rights of defendant Lozano under the color of law, violating 18 USC 241. One could also extrapolate that a simple theft charge could have been leveled against Stoddard and Deputy Lard-Ass for stealing the documents in the first place. I have no idea why Joanne Cuccia failed to move the court to dismiss the charges against Lozano summarily on 6th Amendment grounds.

  • Christopher Usewicz

    Another prime example of the stupidity and underhandedness of police. Did he really believe that seeing the words “steal” and such on a defense attorneys papers indicate that a future crime is in the workings and not just an affidavit of a client? If he really believed that is goes to show the stupidity, if not it goes to show the underhandedness of said officers. They are becoming too much of a mafia that no longer cares about crime prevention as much as filling the jails and racking up fines. Justice is no longer blind but absent

  • Joseph Ip

    He should be glad he was offered that choice. Ungrateful pig. I bet none of the prisoners he guards was offered the choice between their jail time or an apology.

  • David Krug

    So now it’s ok to steal private information from an attorney, even though there is privacy laws to prevent just that, because he can lie and say he saw incriminating “wording” that he had no right to be reading anyways. THEN he gets away with it because he’s law enforcement. Now I just bet on the other hand that if a “civilian” pulled a stunt like that, stealing from an attorney or prosecutor IN A COURTROOM during court they would just let it go right? Right? This damned one sided out to get you “legal system” is soooooo broken right now!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Chum Lee Jr

    How much time will I get for stealing private correspondence from a cops lawyer (in court session, no less)?

    Guaranteed my ass sees jail – and a good beating *tripping down stairs* from any cop I encountered after sentencing.

    Not likely a civilian would be offered such a sweet deal

  • Rob

    That this “officer” was not jailed, fired AND fined for his actions is disgusting. This is basically a new green light for any “officer” who decides to ignore the law and constitution, and take it upon himself to determine what is just in legal matters before the courts. The judge(s) involved in this debacle are just as guilty as the “officer” for not imposing a serious penalty for this crime. Yes, crime!

  • buster

    This sleazy court cop should go to jail. Every child knows from a young age not to steal someone else’s property. This deputy should be fired and serve jail time for subverting justice.

  • Gary

    another example of the privilege that is offered to the elites guard dogs!
    Any of the rest of us would of stayed in jail.
    He DID break the law!!!

  • Anonymous

    Any wonder people don’t trust the police? They prove themselves to be pigs almost everyday. Stoddard is one of those pigs, clearly. Way to go police, now more people won’t trust you!

  • Robert Delrosso

    This is why I hate every one of them there all bad want proof when bad ones do this shit the rest like good old Joe the fuckstick says its OK one law for us another for them hopefully lots of pigs will die this year I will laugh when they do get ready u dumb pigs people can’t trust u scumbag cowards

  • Robert Delrosso

    Someone please kill these cowards the world will be better off

  • skeete44@yahoo.com

    What wrong here is police or sheriffs think they can do anything. That’s was so serious, I would have thrown Arpio in jail alongside Stoddard for telling him not to apologize. This whole world has gone friggin mad. If that was me or you that done that we would be in jail period.

  • Brooks Bray

    So if a family member decides to go look through the district attorney’s file while court is in session and take a document of interest from the pile…the will just get told that is bad and put it back? I don’t think so… that family member will get locked up for years and hit with thousands of dollars in fines… I think the officer should have got fired, fined, and jailed… officers should be held to a higher standard than the average citizen… they cannot do anything they wish and just get a soft slap on the hand… It’s ridiculous and the reason why our society is falling apart, too many double standards… cops get away with literal murder.

  • Scott Dinh

    This Deputy Officer Stoddard is a joke. He broke the law in a court of law he is working. He should be fine, fired and sent to jail.. the End. Justice is not served today. If any citizen did what officer Stoddard did, remove and steal files and papers from another person, may the be a lawyer or anyone else that person is going to jail for a long long time. Why does Deputy Stoddard above the law?

  • Belo

    He should have been thrown in the slammer and forgotten there, a detention officer can’t screw up that bad in court.
    What would have happened if a dangerous criminal would have been set free thanks to his brilliant judgment?

    • Paul Gibson

      I don’t know all the legal procedures, but since the local courts were incompetent about putting Stoddard in jail, could not have someone taken this to a federal court ,where the federal judge would not play games with this serious infraction of misconduct in court?

  • Christopher Usewicz

    in reality, the case should have been thrown out ==

  • Anonymous

    Stoddard and Arpaio; thick as thieves.

  • John Follis

    Facts of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maricopa_County_Sheriff%27s_Office_controversies
    Try to add up the millions of dollars, and imagine the type of people it takes to keep voting him in decade after decade.

  • Standingbearslo

    should have 1) Fired him 2) Thrown him in jail for 1 year (Max time you can be in jail) 3)Barred him from EVER being in law enforcement ever again.

    Why? It is plain as day this guy has no respect for the law. The above steps would serve as a object lesson for any other scumbag..And yes.This guy is a scumbag. From doing the same thing.

    Try to defend this guys actions all you want.. He had ZERO right to paw through the lawyers papers. You give scumbags one inch they are going to take the entire foot. You have to STEP on these kinds of things HARD. Or else we end up with a joke of a legal system………………….Oh wait……..We already have that..