I do not believe I have witnessed such a endemic, procedural travesty of justice as I witnessed yesterday in the courtroom of Pima County Justice Court, Judge (JP) Anne Segal
's courtroom. The most egregious violation an ethically bound public servant that quite troubled me.
I drove to Tucson with Shelton (4409) to cover the State of Arizona versus Bressi
(astronomer Terry Bressi's) civil traffic trial (TR09-001179A-CV), in which a person can apparently be cited by the state with impeding traffic when compelled to stop at a border patrol roadblock. That round trip and a couple of victory beers really must have taken it out of me, because I pretty much posted the Freedom's Phoenix
newsletter without additions -- fortunately Mark Yannone posted the best part of the trial -- and I collapsed into bed a bit after 10PM. I woke up at 2:15 in the morning, and just laid there thinking about what I had witnessed getting both angry and still stunned. I got up, went over my notes, did some house keeping, went back to bed and just laid there stewing over what I witnessed in that courtroom and court house.
I really do not want to tell you about the beginning of my adventure as it detracts from a rather unbelievable story, except that it is pertinent to the story. When we first arrived at the courthouse, we went through the obligatory metal detector. Shelton's video recorder and audio recorder were seized. And then my audio recorder was seized -- despite my having declared myself a member of the media and presented my card, and referring to the Arizona's Supreme Court's Rule 122. Of course they don't care. If I want the recorder for use in my covering what is going on in a courtroom
it will have to be "at the request of the judge." Procedure. Apparently in the history of the Pima County Justice Courthouse there has never been any press coverage, because they don't seem to know how to handle the press, but they sure know how to seize recorders...they got that procedure down pat.
We knew it was going to be interesting when we noted the court docket had alloted just five minutes for Bressi's "trial." We ran into the citing officer in Bressi's case in the hallway. Mr. Bressi was saying hello, and presented him with copies of what exhibits he would be presenting in court as required by protocol. Mr. Bressi asked if the officer had any exhibits he would be presenting to exchange with him, and the officer said "no."
So eventually I saw the bailiff. Then I eventually saw the judge. We had a discussion about Rule 122 which she could not find in her thick book on procedure because it isn't there. [Here is a link
. ("i" is the pertinent portion for me)] But she graciously made a ruling. She said she would approve video and audio recording, but only
of the Bressi trial. That was better than nothing, and truthfully in many ways much better than could be expected.]
Now, several other hearings and trials were before Mr. Bressi's. I got to witness the judge. Her rulings and consideration of evidence. Frankly, Bressi probably could not have expected a better judge. I have seen way to many "let's make a deal" judges who drop some charges if a defendant will plead guilty to others. But Judge Segal listened to the defendants in front of her, and was rather lenient IMHO.
BUT I was deeply disturbed by what transpired when her criminal trials were over and the traffic "trials" began. I was deprived of my recorder when she addressed all whom remained in the courtroom on how their trials would be conducted. And this represents an classic reason why the courts have been sued for blocking press coverage. And I cannot imagine -- well maybe I can -- how she would conclude this was of no interest to the public. But she explained the procedures of Pima County carefully enough that I am sure I covered it accurately and comprehensibly:
1. She won't allow cross examination of the accuser (the cop).
2. The cop will make a statement.
3. Here she says audio/ video won't be allowed to "protect the privacy" of the rest of the people being brought before her court, but it will be allowed for the Bressi hearing. [They have no expectation of privacy. There name and case is plastered on your open and searchable web site for case lookup, as it is on the AZ Supreme Court's web site. They have been ordered/ compelled under threat of death to appear in open court. Oh, come on, death?!!!! Next time you get a something as innocuous as a speeding ticket, ignore it and tell me what happened to you within a year or two later. A complete transcript of the hearings and trials are available to the public from the Clerk of the Court's office. And the Arizona Constitution is clear on having an open judiciary. Frankly every courtroom and every judges chambers should have an audio/ video link online 24/7/365 with no off or mute button. That is transparency and complies with the only source of judicial power existing...the AZ Constitution. Anything else is an anathema and a affront to our Rights and what limited power we grant to the judiciary.]
4. No witnesses are allowed.
5. Then the defendant may make a statement -- if they choose to, or they can remain silent as is their Right.
Apparently that is the only Right you have left in Judge Segal's and apparently Pima County's JP courtrooms on traffic violations. The Right to keep your mouth shut and not take up any more of the court's time. You have no Right to confront your accuser. You have no Right to call witnesses to testify on your behalf. We did not get to find out whether you had the Right to object to the procedure or to offer evidence of your own because the trial was over so quickly. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Apparently the media has no right to audio record what might be of interest in a courtroom, except for the trial or hearing they are there to cover despite agreements with media outlets to drop federal suits against the Arizona Supreme Court in exchange for Rule 122.
Finally after a few traffic "trials" we got to Bressi's. Both Shelton and myself beelined to the bailiff to retrieve our recorders. I set mine up as quickly as possible so as to not miss the officer's testimony. It looks like as a result of my rush something went wrong, no successful audio recording was made just 9 minutes and 20 seconds of dead air.
My notes: Officer was sworn in. Stated he was Officer Robert Carrasco, badge #166, with the Tohono O'odham Police Department and is based out of Sells, Arizona
He indicated he was in the eastbound travel lane on State Route 86 at milepost 146
. Following approximately three to four car lengths behind the first vehicle [Mr. Bressi's] at a Border Patrol checkpoint stop. (Meaning there were three or four cars in front of him.)
The judge abruptly stopped the proceeding and stated she had changed her mind at this point and was uncomfortable with Shelton video taping the proceeding. Now all Shelton had done was set the camera up on the bench top that separated the court from the audience and left the camera running when the cop started speaking. A court cop -- who had not been at the back of the room the previous hour but must have been called to wait to deal with us media hooligans in case the judge decided we presented an immediate threat to openly disclosing courtroom procedure and testimony literally rushed up and placed his hand over the lens. I kept my mouth shut. Shelton shut the camera down which was actually delayed by the overzealous security guard.
The judge explained her actions were for "security measures." A courtroom literally jammed with armed
cops, deputies and other arm bearing constabulary and Shelton's video camera had to be turned off for security. But she wasn't done. Her best justification was that "this trial was not of sufficient news worthiness to merit video coverage." So a judge gets to decide what is and is not of sufficient public interest to allow potential public viewing of what goes on in her courtroom. And a police officer abusing his privilege to force people to pull off the road and detain them from their free travel in collusion with agents of the federal government is not of sufficient public interest to warrant video coverage of the statements and "trial?" I see. She did not reverse her prior approval of making an audio recording however...but with my failing to get my audio recorder properly set up that did not matter...even though I had not planned on posting any audio until she had stated she had no problem with that.
Officer Robert Carrasco's statement continued: A border patrol agent walked up to Officer Carrasco's vehicle and asked if he would assist him and released him from the border patrol checkpoint. Now he made this seem like he was dutifully waiting in line with everyone else to reach the inspection point and the border patrol agent instead cleared him to pass through the checkpoint as soon as Mr. Bressi left.
He overheard one of the border patrol agents say, "Please move on" repeatedly with the car remaining holding up traffic at the checkpoint. [This was perjury -- Bressi's complete encounter at that particular stop was on video and at no point was that phrase or anything like it stated. Which demonstrates the importance of having an independent recorded coverage of any
interaction with a public official to counter their official account.]
He basically indicates he pulled Bressi over almost immediately after he leaves the checkpoint. As he approaches Mr. Bressi he noted Mr. Bressi has his window rolled up and a camera in his hands...then he corrects himself to say he saw something in his hands ... which was dangerous to Mr. Bressi if he hadn't identified it as a camera. There is a wonderful bit where the approaching Officer "I could be in fear of my life from the object in his hands" Carrasco first walks up to the vehicle with both his empty
hands outstretched trying to block the camera.
Mr. Bressi was identified as the driver of the vehicle and present at the table in the courtroom across from Officer Carrasco. According to his statement Mr. Bressi kept repeating three things over and over through the window: Who are you? What is your name and police department? Why did you stop me? Officer Carrasco did not respond.
Mr. Bressi would not answer any of Officer Carrasco's questions. [Mr. Carrasco then goes back to consult with two border patrol agents while another agent monitors Mr. Bressi.]
After Carrasco identified who he was, and why he pulled Mr. Bressi over, Bressi did crack the window to provide proof of insurance, driver's license and vehicle registration, and was "on a cell phone with his attorney." The border patrol "assisted" then he corrected himself, they were present. He was cited with "impeding the flow of traffic" and instructed to move his vehicle. That concluded the Officer's testimony.
The judge interrupted before Mr. Bressi could make his statement. After some profuse sucking up to the officer for how much respect she had for him and the job he did she was ruling Mr. Bressi was "not responsible" for this citation, because it was improperly cited (ARS 28-704A
). [The violation did not fit the statement supplied by the officer.]
The judge did permit Mr. Bressi to submit his evidence (exhibits) as part of the record. But even though a win is a win, Mr. Bressi was not happy after months of preparation that he was unable to make a public statement as to his side of the story. And I imagine Officer Carrasco was unhappy in his paid two hour drive back to Sells.
The judicial procedure stated for traffic violations presents a lot, no, a huge host of problems for me
. [here is the Rule 19 document
in PDF form if the link does not work] To think that numerous people every day in Pima County are subjected to sham trials where they have complied with the numerous and onerous burdens of process and procedures to finally get to appear in front of a judge to contest their guilt only to be told they have no Right to confront their accuser(s), they have no Right to bring witnesses for their defense, they have no Right to appear with an attorney unless they have given the court ten days notice. These are fundamental Rights being violated by government daily in a pattern that can be traced back, what? Years?
The judge really came off as someone I would want to appear before if I was in trouble. She genuinely seemed attentive, interested and to carefully weigh each defendant I witnessed make statements in front of her. And I have seen more than a few judges. But presumably she has an advanced college degree (Or not. She is a elected JP so it is not required that she be a lawyer -- edit: but she does or will
) and hopefully her parents taught her right from wrong.
People have Rights. Governments have powers. Powers derived from the CONSENT of the governed. Government has the power through force of arms -- but not the legitimate power -- to strip people of their inalienable Rights for their convenience of the process of depriving people of their property or their liberty. And denying Rights is what any judge unabashedly supports every day they read that Pima County traffic court procedure. I am appalled, and she and any judge in that county should be morally ashamed to have anything to do with that complete miscarriage of "justice."