It’s right there on video: On October 19 in a Maricopa County, Arizona, courtroom, as defense attorney Joanne Cuccia discusses her client’s sentencing with Superior Court Judge Lisa Flores, court deputy Adam Stoddard walks up behind her and begins sifting through a file on her desk. He eventually removes a document, reads it, then hands it to another deputy for copying.
Cuccia’s client witnessed this snooping, which was brought to the attention of Judge Flores. The Phoenix-based freelance journalist Nick Martin then acquired the video and posted it online. At a subsequent hearing on the incident, Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe ordered deputy Stoddard to apologize at a press conference for the violation of attorney-client privilege. But Stoddard works for the famed Joe Arpaio, self-described “toughest sheriff in America,” and Donahoe’s order set off a surreal clash between the state’s courts and Arpaio’s department.
Stoddard refused to apologize and instead went to jail, where he is enjoying paid leave. Arpaio, who is under federal investigation for a variety of civil rights violations, called Stoddard a “political prisoner.” The day after Stoddard was locked up, 20 of his fellow deputies called in sick, resulting in delays in the county court system. The court building was evacuated after a bomb threat, at which point several police unions coincidentally held a “Free Stoddard” rally in front of the evacuated crowd. In subsequent days there were more bomb threats, as well as an evacuation due to a mysterious cloud of pepper spray. Deputies have held nightly “candlelight vigils” in Stoddard’s cause.
The week after Stoddard went to jail, Arpaio filed a federal lawsuit against Maricopa’s judges and county supervisors, alleging a broad conspiracy against him and his deputies. On December 8, Judge Flores reported that Arpaio’s department had refused to continue bringing inmates into her courtroom for their hearings.