We Are Fighting Maricopa County’s Rampant Prosecutorial Misconduct

The Arizona Supreme Court will soon consider the misconduct of one of Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery’s top prosecutors: Juan Martinez. Martinez gained national notoriety when he prosecuted Jodi Arias for murder in 2008, but his aggressive and often unethical conduct was well-known in Arizona well before then. It’s time he’s held accountable.

The ACLU of Arizona and the ACLU Capital Punishment Project yesterday filed an amicus brief urging the Court to do just that, and in doing so highlighted the pervasive culture of misconduct at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

Until recently, the Arizona State Bar had failed in its duty to seek discipline against Juan Martinez even though the Arizona Supreme Court has repeatedly spotlighted his behavior and misdeeds. Having never faced consequences for his misconduct, Martinez has to no surprise continued to flout the law to obtain convictions and death sentences.

As with many people in positions of power, Martinez has proved an elusive target in the past. In 2017, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice filed a complaint with the State Bar citing Martinez’s long history of misconduct. The State Bar finally initiated discipline proceedings against Martinez. But unfortunately, after a poorly presented case by the Bar, the panel considering the complaint dismissed it and declined to discipline Martinez. The State Bar has now appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court. Our brief calls on the Court to reverse the bar panel’s erroneous decision and to appoint a special prosecutor to handle the complaint against Martinez.

Unfortunately, Juan Martinez’s behavior is not uncommon in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. It is indicative of a decades-long culture of misconduct that flows from the top down, one that prioritizes winning convictions over pursuing fairness and executing justice.  

One of the more egregious examples is prosecutor Noel Levy. Over his long career at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, Levy sent two innocent people to death row. Debra Milke spent 24 years incarcerated, including 22 on death row, for a crime she did not commit. At her 1990 trial, Levy never shared with Milke’s defense team that the lead detective, who claimed Milke had confessed to him, had a long history of lying under oath and other misconduct – information Levy was required to disclose to the defense under the federal and state constitutions. Milke was finally released from death row in 2015, after Levy’s prosecutorial misconduct was exposed and that transparency allowed her to clear her name.

Two years after Milke’s trial, Levy prosecuted Ray Krone for the murder of a woman who worked at a bar he frequented. Levy relied on questionable bitemark evidence to secure a death sentence against Krone, who had no criminal history before the murder charge. But, it turned out that the bitemark comparison images had been manipulated to match Krone’s teeth. A decade later, DNA evidence cleared Krone and pointed to another man who was in prison for a sex crime. Krone was finally released after serving 10 years in prison, including four years on death row.

Despite the devastating harm caused to these two lives, and the great harm to the integrity of the criminal legal system, the Arizona State Bar never disciplined Levy for his gross misconduct in either case. It’s no coincidence that Maricopa County is one of the largest contributors of new death sentences in the entire country, in part due to its aggressive, overzealous, and often unethical, prosecutors.

This culture of impunity is so entrenched that prosecutors not only escape discipline for misconduct and unethical behavior, they are, in fact, rewarded in spite of it.

Prosecutors with known records of misconduct and unethical behavior have been honored and rewarded by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorney’s Advisory Council (APAAC), which includes Bill Montgomery as a member. APAAC named Martinez “Prosecutor of the Year” in 1999. Noel Levy received the same award several years before that and was later recognized with APAAC’s “Lifetime Achievement Award.” Martinez’s colleague Jeannette Gallagher, chief of the Capital Litigation Unit, has committed a string of improprieties across multiple cases. The Arizona Supreme Court has called her conduct inappropriate, improper, and unacceptable. Still, like Levy, she was honored with APAAC’s “Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2013.

It is not only the State Bar that can and should hold these prosecutors accountable. Maricopa County Bill Montgomery can and should take the initiative to clean up the culture of misconduct within his office. He has been serving in this elected position since 2010—that means he has had nearly a decade to begin restoring the public’s faith in his office and in the criminal legal system as a whole. Not only has he failed to adequately repair the damage caused by prosecutorial misconduct, he continues to operate in secrecy, failing to be transparent with the public and the press when questions about the rampant prosecutorial misconduct in his office.

No matter how serious the crime or a prosecutor’s zeal to win a trial, no one should be above the law. The Arizona Supreme Court has a chance to finally rein in this culture of prosecutorial impunity. It should make clear that Martinez’s unethical behavior has no place in the criminal legal system, and particularly not when people’s lives are on the line.  

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Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

Mr. Martinez is a minority and we know the rules don't apply to them.

Anonymous in Se...

OR the rules ONLY apply to them!

Dan Pichoda

Well said. As long demonstrated by Martinez & other senior prosecutors including in death eligible cases, the concern of County Attorney Montgomery was a conviction no matter the unfairness of the proceeding & unconstitutional acts of his office.

Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

This gentlemen needs to be given a stiff dose of that new drug Latinx.

Anonymous

This is another pure bs article trying to take down Martinez.

Sandra Webber

5 years ago, I contacted the AZ ACLU about #Maricopa's refusal to answer my questions regarding what media credentials were necessary to obtain a media pass for #JodiArias trial. Good to know they are finally opening up #MaricopaCounty's can of worms, I mean snakes.

Terri Scofield

Good work. I've saved the brief as a template. I believe if one substituted Suffolk County, NY and inserted the names and cases of former DA Tom Spota, his former sidekick Chris McPartland (both currently under federal indictment with an upcoming November trial date) and myriad current & former ADA's & Bureau Chiefs such as Glen Kurtzrock, Emily Constant and others dating as far back as the Catterson and Henry Administrations, you'd have an excellent history of the pervasive, systemic corruption, collusion, investigatory and prosecutorial misconduct that is an unfortunate tradition in Suffolk County, NY.

Anonymous

If you are going to have a death penalty then it is the DUTY of the prosecutor to ensure that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and not through tainted evidence, lies, or manipulation.

Anonymous

That AZ still operates as if Arpaio were the large influencer in the room. Ducey is a Republican hack, biding time in Phoenix while waiting to be called up to the 'bigs'. As a rabid Trump stooge, he will dove-tail nicely into the moral invertebrate club. AZ is an ethical wasteland; education, teacher salaries, sexual assault protection to low-income children...doing the least to support the vulnerable.

Doris

No matter how Juan behaved he still got Arias convicted of first degree murder, which is what she deserved. She brutally attacked Travis Alexander for her be jealous and no other reason. There was no domestic violence as per Arias. Arias told lie after lie, and still is lieing to make herself look good. She is after revenge against Her attorneys and Juan Martinez. This whole thing is a big game to her. She will stop at nothing to get what she want. We must keeps these things in mind when reviewing her complaints. This will never stop unless you stop her. As for the Monet, she makes lots of money selling her art work and donations from web sites. She does not claim any earnings with the IRS, so it is time she makes ligit on her financial situation.

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