Judge dismisses sexual harassment ethics charges against top MCAO prosecutor

By: - August 24, 2019 8:23 pm

“Teflon” Juan Martinez got a temporary reprieve on Friday night when the presiding disciplinary judge of the Arizona Supreme Court threw out a chunk of the pending ethics charges against him that stemmed from allegations of sexual harassment in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

Martinez’s attorney, Don Wilson, had filed a motion for summary judgment — meaning a ruling by the judge before trial — saying that the ethical rules for Arizona attorneys specify behavior towards attorneys, clients and the court, but say nothing about behavior in one’s office, no matter how boorish.

Judge William O’Neil agreed, and he issued an oral ruling to that effect late Friday.

As Wilson wrote in his motion, “The conduct for which Martinez was reprimanded (by MCAO) was confined to two main types of conduct: (1) making MCAO employees uncomfortable during lunch outings; and (2) actions and comments perceived to be inappropriate when working on assignment with law clerks.”

Those comments purportedly included such statements to young female law clerks as “I can guess what color panties you’re wearing” and “I’d like to climb you like a statue.”

But since they were uttered in the office instead of in court, O’Neil ruled they don’t count as violations of the State Bar of Arizona’s ethical rules.  

Martinez’s boss, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has said that Martinez was disciplined, and Wilson noted he was “reprimanded,” but neither said to what extent. And though Montgomery had the results of an in-house investigation sent to the Bar, he requested that it be sealed. The fact that Martinez still has a job suggests that MCAO may be one of the few places of business in America that #MeToo forgot.

The rest of the charges remain — that Martinez disseminated confidential information about a juror; that he lied to investigators about his relationships with two different women, one a blogger covering the Arias case and the other a woman thrown off the Arias jury; and that he harassed a stenographer working in the Arias courtroom. 

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

But the disciplinary hearing, which was supposed to begin Aug. 27, has been put off for 30 to 60 days, according to sources close to the case, so that the attorneys can recalibrate their plans.

It also gives breathing room for Martinez’s boss, Montgomery, who is seen as a leading contender to be appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court by Gov. Doug Ducey, despite a résumé that is light on judicial and other legal experience and long on party politics.

O’Neil has not yet ruled on Wilson’s motion to limit press and public attendance during portions of the hearing when sealed evidence would be discussed. The senior counsel for the State Bar of Arizona, which licenses and polices attorneys, asked that the entire proceeding take place behind closed doors so as not to “distract” the women testifying and because so much of the material — including depositions and reports — are sealed.

A status conference is scheduled for Aug. 27.

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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.