Judge asked to bar press from ethics hearing for Arias prosecutor accused of sexual misconduct

By: - August 22, 2019 3:58 pm
Juan Martinez

Maricopa County prosecutor Juan Martinez during the Jodi Arias trial. Photo by Associated Press | Pool photo

Juan Martinez would like to keep his privacy. 

The tenacious terrier of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is notorious for dredging up the sex lives of the defendants he prosecutes, from nude photographs down to details like condoms and KY jelly. 

But when it comes to his own alleged sexual transgressions, which will be the main topic of a hearing later this month before a panel headed by the Arizona Supreme Court’s Presiding Disciplinary Judge, his attorneys have asked the judge to limit media coverage because “…(T)here will be testimony regarding sensitive personal information which (Martinez) and at least two witnesses desire to remain private.” 

The Senior Bar Counsel for the State Bar of Arizona, which licenses and regulates attorneys in the state, went several steps further, responding to camera requests from four TV news stations by asking that all testimony in the hearing, slated for Aug. 27-29, be sealed and media coverage be blocked. 

In an objection filed Aug. 16, Bar Counsel Craig Henley stated that the women who either engaged in sexual activities with Martinez or who were the objects of unwanted attention, would testify about “private, sensitive and personally embarrassing facts.” He reasoned that they might be inhibited by the media presence. And they may fall victim afterward to the threats and harassment of Martinez’s cult-like fan base or the equally rabid supporters of the defendant who made him famous, Jodi Arias. 

Arias killed her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in 2008, and her trials spawned an international cyber-circus that rages to this day. Two consecutive juries were unable to reach a unanimous decision that she should be sentenced to death. 

Presiding Disciplinary Judge William O’Neil on Thursday heard arguments from an attorney representing several local media outlets seeking camera coverage, including ABC15, 12News and The Arizona Republic, as well as attorneys for the Bar and Martinez. O’Neil stated outright that witnesses testifying about sealed material – which is most everything – will be done so in a closed courtroom, excluding the public and the media.

Martinez’s attorney, Don Wilson, who defended former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas in his disbarment, declared that, unlike Thomas, Martinez is not a public official because he was not elected to public office.

Mark Kokanovich, the attorney representing the media, appeared astonished at the assertion.

“He is very much a public figure,” he replied, citing Martinez’ rockstar status because of the Arias case.

And he noted that Martinez and many of the witnesses have already been the subject of public scrutiny and attention.

“Those privacy concerns are de minimis at this point,” he said. And as for being put in the spotlight, he said, “They inserted themselves.” 

Kokanovich argued for transparency. O’Neil seemed unconvinced.

Then he took the matter under advisement, with no indication of when he would rule. 

In more than two decades as a deputy Maricopa County attorney, Martinez has repeatedly been accused of prosecutorial misconduct, and since the Arias trials of 2013 and 2015, he has been the subject of at least seven Bar complaints. 

Misconduct and Bar Complaint are not the same thing, though they may overlap. 

Misconduct is determined by a judge in a particular case, who then decides if the behavior was so damaging to a defendant as to merit a mistrial. Bar complaints focus on violations of the attorneys’ code of ethics and are first vetted by the State Bar, then by a separate “probable cause” committee, which then decides whether a violation should be dismissed or litigated. 

Sometimes attorneys consent to sanctions that range from a bad mark on their record all the way to disbarment. 

Martinez has mostly skated on the allegations of misconduct and ethics violations, earning himself the nickname, “Teflon Juan.” 

In 2017, for example, after a disciplinary hearing, O’Neil dismissed complaints that stemmed from more than a decade of cases Martinez tried. It is now under appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court. 

The current charges originated in Arias’ trials and were first brought in 2017 by ethics attorneys Karen Clark and Ralph Adams on Arias’ behalf. The Bar dismissed them. Clark and Adams appealed to the Probable Cause Committee and the case was reinstated. And by the end of 2018, more allegations had been added to the complaint following a secret personnel investigation conducted by the County Attorney’s Office. 

County Attorney Bill Montgomery has told the media that Martinez was disciplined, but did not specify how.

There are two counts to the current bar charge.

The first alleges that, during the Arias trials, Martinez developed a sexual relationship with a woman who self-published a true-crime blog and divulged confidential trial information to her – namely, the identity of the single juror who refused to impose a death penalty on Arias.

Furthermore, the charge alleges, Martinez misrepresented his relationship with the blogger, denying he had a sexual relationship with her. In the face of countless text messages to the blogger’s carpool friend, and other evidence, the blogger admitted the relationship and will testify.

Also as part of the first count, the Bar alleges that Martinez also misrepresented the nature and duration of a flirtatious relationship with a woman who had been ejected from the jury in the second Arias trial. Martinez was supposedly fishing for information about other jurors. And though the two never met face to face, they spoke on the phone several times and sent texts back and forth. 

The woman even sexted a photo of her breasts to Martinez.

The second count comes out of Martinez’s behavior with women in the courthouse and even in his own office.

One of the witnesses is a former court stenographer to whom Martinez would make remarks about wanting to see what was “inside her skirt.”

And several are reportedly female MCAO employees whom he would ogle or invite to lunch or tell them he could guess the color of their “panties.” According to the complaint, some of the women would hide in the restroom when they heard his voice.

Montgomery had the report sent to the Disciplinary Judge under seal. His office insists that the seal order came from the judge, even though the first words in O’Neil’s order sealing it declare that “The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) having filed a Request for Protective Order…”

In July, attorneys for the Bar asked that the protective order be lifted and the documents unsealed, over the objections of MCAO. O’Neil ruled against them. A month later they were asking to block media coverage so as not to “distract” witnesses.

Their concern is not unwarranted.

During her second trial, Arias and her attorneys convinced the trial judge to let her testify in a closed courtroom. Apparently, she, too, was embarrassed by having brutally murdered a man. But reporters ejected from the courtroom called their bosses and their attorneys, and as a result, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that testimony could not be conducted in private.

So Arias refused to testify. And so did many of the witnesses her trial attorneys wanted to call. They were afraid of what would happen to them afterward.

That is the fear of Bar Counsel.

The admitted blogger/lover in the current ethics case knows all too well what can happen to a person who crosses Juan Martinez.

Moments after the mistrial in Arias’ second trial, this reporter and another were looking at the Facebook page of the holdout juror on the website of the blogger. We both immediately asked the blogger how and why she had obtained it, and she claimed it was posted on her page by some unknown person and that it had already disappeared.

Then the cyber-universe opened and vomited its bile on the hold-out juror, who received so many threats that she needed around-the-clock police protection.

The blogger has consistently denied that she leaked the name, and the Bar charge states there is no proof she did.

But what else is at stake?

If Martinez is disbarred or otherwise disciplined it could affect Arias’ appeal, which is still pending at the Arizona Court of Appeals.

But it could also affect other Martinez convictions, with defense attorneys looking for any chink in the armor.

Case in point: In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a death sentence Martinez obtained after scaring a jury into thinking that the man could someday get out on parole if he wasn’t sentenced to death. The problem was that there is no parole in Arizona for adult murderers, and the man would have faced a mandatory natural life sentence with no chance of release. Subsequently, other Arizona death sentences were overturned because of the precedent.

Those are reasons why MCAO would likely rather not see the Martinez hearings out in the open. It has been suggested that the sealed depositions of the objects of Martinez’ attentions may stay sealed indefinitely.

And if O’Neil decides to close the hearings to the press, it will likely trigger a special action appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.

The Arizona rules of court procedure presume that camera coverage is allowed. And if a judge denies coverage, he or she has to make written findings as to the harm it causes to witnesses. 

And what of Martinez’s boss?

Bill Montgomery is on the short list for a seat on the Arizona Supreme Court, which appoints the Presiding Disciplinary Judge.

Montgomery and O’Neil could soon be officemates.

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Michael Kiefer
Michael Kiefer

Michael Kiefer has been a journalist in Arizona for 31 years, including 16 years at The Arizona Republic and eight at Phoenix New Times. Before that, he was an associate editor at Outside magazine and wrote for numerous publications, including Esquire, Playboy and The New York Times. He witnessed five Arizona executions and covered the topic from state murder trials to the U.S. Supreme Court.