The arraignment of Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley that was scheduled for Thursday was postponed because of a last-minute motion from prosecutors asking that the judge be stripped of the case.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas filed the motion late Wednesday claiming that Judge Kenneth Fields has shown hostility toward him in the past and cannot give prosecutors a fair hearing. Thomas also argues the unusual way in which the case was assigned to Fields is enough to call the independence of the courts into question.
Fields responded almost immediately with an order rejecting the request that he voluntarily remove himself from the case. That was followed up with an order from Judge Anna Baca, presiding judge of the criminal division, canceling Stapley’s scheduled arraignment until Thomas’ motion could be heard in front of a different judge.
Stapley is charged with 118 criminal counts alleging he failed to list properties and business interests on personal disclosure statements he is required to file. He was scheduled to be arraigned Thursday morning in front of Fields.
Thomas’ motion asked that Fields voluntarily remove himself from the case. In the alternative, it asked that he be removed from the case for cause. Fields has made public statements slamming Thomas and his prosecutors, and authored a complaint to the State Bar of Arizona that resulted in an investigation of Thomas, according to the motion. That complaint, the result of a special prosecutor’s handling of an investigation of the Phoenix New Times, remains open.
“The preferential treatment being shown the defendant (Stapley) is wrong,” Thomas says in the motion, which was drafted by one of his deputies. “The overall impression being given is of a presiding county judge and assigned judge who are acting to undermine the prosecution of a powerful, high-profile defendant.
“The Maricopa County Superior Court’s handling of this criminal case against a powerful county politician threatens to undermine public confidence in the county judiciary.”
Thomas also claims that Presiding Judge Barbara Mundell went outside the normal system of assigning judges to criminal cases, and hand-picked Fields. Criminal cases are normally assigned randomly to judges. Mundell bypassed that procedure and “has chosen a retired judge with a history of bias and prejudice, as well as political and judicial activism,” Thomas’ motion states.
Mundell worked closely with Stapley on plans to build a new, $339 million court building, according to the motion. The Board of Supervisors also sets the budget for the courts, the motion states.
Thomas asked that the legal proceedings in the Stapley case be delayed.
In rejecting the motion that he voluntarily remove himself from the case, Fields made clear he has no intention of stepping aside.
“This court does not intend to recuse itself,” he stated in his order.
Stapley was given until Tuesday to respond to Thomas’ motion. As yet, Stapley’s lawyer has not been identified.
The indictment against Stapley was announced last week. It is the result of a months-long investigation conducted by the offices of the county attorney and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.