Well, I went to the hearing this morning. The first thing to confront me was a lot of people waiting outside the courtroom. Locked doors. The hearing was supposed to begin at 8:30AM, and we still had ten minutes to go...but it is really weird to encounter a locked courtroom. I shot the bull with a defense attorney. He had a client awaiting a hearing ... I didn't pry. He said it was unusual for Judge Steinle to be tardy.
A Judicial Assistant finally opened the doors at 8:38AM. I talked with her because the door had a sign on it regarding no recording devices allowed in the courtroom. She said I could not be in there with my audio recorder. She said I could leave it outside the courtroom -- like that was going to happen. I kept telling her I had no interest in filing a motion with the judge -- since I knew full well he wouldn't act on it at that moment -- so I finally talked her into getting me the Bailiff. She came over. A totally sweet woman. Blah, blah, blah. Bottom line: She said I could talk to the judge before the hearing started and she would keep my recorder for me. Very acceptable.
Talk to him about what? Rule 122 (i). Over many years (it used to be called Rule 21) the Arizona Supreme Court has made accommodation to recording devices held by reporters. Generally they had no problem with audio -- but cameras of any kind were a big bugaboo. This was especially reinforced when the O.J. Simpson trial occurred, and the display by Judge Ito (aka Judge Ego) in front of the cameras was very embarrassing. But the court's concerns with audio recording was the possibility of picking up private conversations between a lawyer and their client. Reporters know that reporting such a conversation is eavesdropping, unethical and harshly frowned upon. Put another way, it is unprofessional conduct that will get the privilege of recording in a courtroom taken away from all the reporters.
Now a judge rules their courtroom, and what they say goes because men with large caliber guns will come and kill you at a judge's say ... OK, OK, only if you give them the excuse;-) But it never hurts to ask the judge's indulgence. The worst he can say is no. [I get the feeling he is a judge who does not say yes to recording period.] But in this case, Rule 122i IMNSHO gives the judge zero leeway from his superiors in the Supreme Court:
(i) Individual journalists may use their personal audio recorders in the courtroom, but such usage shall not be obtrusive or distracting and no changes of tape or reels shall be made during court sessions. In all other respects, news reporters or other media representatives not using cameras or electronic equipment shall not be subject to these guidelines.
So I look forward to seeking an explanation from the Supreme Court, Superior Court and then perhaps Judge Steinle. I will let you know.
But this is not supposed to be about me. So I sat up near the front of the room behind the prosecutors. Now the defense side of the courtroom (always the right side in every court case I have ever been in or observed) was packed. The prosecutor was bare. So I sat behind the prosecutors. What fun. I got to see the state Attorney General's representative introduce himself to the Maricopa County Attorney's representatives. There accumulated about eight souls for the prosecution, presumably for the nine guys sitting in black and white stripes awaiting their turn. I am listening to two of the prosecutors having a quiet conversation about all the attendees in the gallery, one is telling the other they are supporters of John Stuart and are "a bunch of Ron Paul nuts." Whoa, I tucked that one away and couldn't wait until they started officially identifying themselves for the judge. But telling you who it was who said that never occurred. [Ed was there making trouble too. Is he the best or what?]
Suddenly someone from the County Prosecutor walks out and announces to the courtroom that ALL attorneys are to report to the judge's chambers. And he looks at me and says "no reporters". Dang! I have never seen all attorneys from disparate sides hauled back into the judge's chambers before, but what the heck. Maybe the judge liked to start off his day in private.
Finally Mr. Stuart's fiancée Cindy Cantrell comes in (I confess I hadn't seen her get called out of the gallery). She starts to let everyone who came know that the judge has just recused himself. WTF?!
Apparently this recusal affected the other guys awaiting his honor's attention as the lawyer I spoke with in the hallway awaiting the court to open up rescheduled his client after speaking with him for a later date. Another attorney showing up late was rescheduling as well when I was leaving. Weird.
So what went on?
Remember that there are two facets in this case as far as the courts are concerned (three actually with the drive by shooting charge filed solely to RICO Mr. Stuart's truck and its contents). One is the murder charge. The other is the false filing of paperwork charge that came later after Stuart made bail a second time.
The motion this day was to either dismiss the murder charge or resubmit it back in front of the grand jury ... the latter of which I thought Mr. Stuart had a fair chance of that occurring. But apparently in closed chambers Mr. Stuart's attorney had requested the judge recuse himself based upon his prior rulings, sealing and unsealing paperwork and the subsequent re-arrest of his client based upon the judge's refusal to accept the paperwork and the County's claim of felony false paperwork filing (which may turn out to not be so false), or have the request for recusal spelled out in open court as a motion. The judge recused himself. I am not sure why that effected other scheduled cases however except the court was now half an hour late in starting.
What this means is the judge has removed himself from this case. Who the new judge will be is up in the air. Perhaps the courts will combine the current false filing case in Judge Rosa Mroz's court with the murder charge. I do not know much about her, but a quick search of her record shows she is an experienced judge who certainly can handle a high profile murder case such as this. Both of these cases were linked to this motion to dismiss/ remand back to the grand jury. I will keep you posted. [Update-- A new judges name has appeared: Judge Paul McMurdie. His biography is a broken link, but a cached version takes you here. An interesting choice considering whom he has been sued by using Admiralty claims.]
Sadly, Mr. Stuart continues to languish in the County lockup ... this several week delay to end in a recusal getting him no where near either conviction, release or exoneration, and has to frustrate both sides.