Juan Martinez reprimanded by Arizona Supreme Court

By Lauren Castle

Years after criminal defense attorneys complained to the State Bar of Arizona about the conduct of Maricopa County prosecutor Juan Martinez, the state’s highest court is doling out some discipline.

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that Martinez should receive a reprimand for ethical misconduct in three capital murder cases.

According to the court, this is Martinez’s first disciplinary sanction as a member of the bar. The reprimand is a permanent, public sanction on a lawyer’s discipline record, but it doesn’t prevent someone from continuing to practice law. There is a risk of more serious consequences if a lawyer continues to not follow the ethical rules.

“This sanction is not intended to punish Martinez, but rather to protect the public and the courts and to deter Martinez and others from engaging in similar misconduct,” Justice John R. Lopez IV wrote in the opinion.

According to the court, Martinez violated the rule that prohibits lawyers from engaging in “conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.” Specifically, the court said Martinez made inappropriate comments to the juries during those trials.

In a statement to The Arizona Republic, Chief Bar Counsel Maret Vessella said the State Bar was pleased with the court’s decision.

“The court’s reasoning is sound and the outcome fair,” she said.

Martinez’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Martinez has worked for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for 30 years. In his career, he has prosecuted numerous high-profile cases. But he became a household name during the Jodi Arias murder trial.

Martinez has faced several allegations of misconduct over the years, including sexual harassment. In February, the County Attorney’s Office informed him that it was planning to dismiss him. In March, he informed the office he was appealing its decision.

The State Bar accused Martinez of prosecutorial misconduct in five cases: Cory Morris, Michael Gallardo, Shawn Lynch, Jodi Arias and Cicero Beemon.

It believed Martinez violated a Supreme Court rule and Arizona Rules of Professional Conduct. However, the court ruled that Martinez only violated one rule, and in three cases.

“This case presents an opportunity to provide guidance to courts by clarifying the difference between prosecutorial misconduct that may necessitate a new trial and a prosecutor’s conduct that violates the ethical rules,” Lopez wrote in the opinion.

The court ruled Martinez made inappropriate comments to the juries in the Morris, Gallardo and Lynch trials.

It pointed out Martinez’s actions of singling out jurors, encouraging jurors to put themselves into the victim’s position to get sympathy for the victims and bring out fear of the defendants, and continuing with an argument even though the trial judge repeatedly sustained the defense’s objections.

“As a prosecutor, Martinez’s serial improper appeals to juries to elicit sympathy for

victims and fear of defendants and his failure to comply with a court ruling jeopardized

the integrity of the legal system,” Lopez wrote in the opinion. “That Martinez’s negligent conduct did not result in reversal of criminal convictions does not absolve him of ethical culpability for potential systemic injuries.”

Cory Morris was sentenced to death in 2005 for killing five women.

“On direct appeal, this Court reviewed Martinez’s remarks on the “putrid” odor of one victim’s jacket — offered by Martinez to the jury for its “smelling pleasure” — and concluded that they were ‘inappropriate,’ but not misconduct,” Lopez wrote in the opinion.

According to court records, Martinez also picked certain members of the jury, by their appearance and gender, to address them personally.

“Hey, Juror Number 1 or Juror Number 14, whatever it is, what if we put [the] Winnie the Pooh tie around your neck?,” Martinez said during the trial, according to court records. “Are you going to enjoy that? Are you going to like it? Going to feel real good when you can’t breathe?”

The Arizona Supreme Court found that Martinez’s conduct during the trial against Gallardo was improper, but did not deprive the defendant of a fair trial.

During the trial, Martinez spoke of the family of the victim and what they had lost. According to court records, Martinez continued using an argument concerning a defense expert witness even though the trial judge repeatedly sustained objections.

The Arizona Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Lynch in 2010 after an aggravating factor was applied improperly. The defendant was originally sentenced to death, but the court did not find any prosecutorial misconduct that warranted a reversal.

In Lynch’s second trial, he was again sentenced to death. The Arizona Supreme Court reviewed Martinez’s conduct during the penalty phase. It determined his conduct didn’t impact the jury’s verdict.

According to court records, Martinez told the jury to place themselves in the victim’s position and that, “they could not know what it was like to be ‘manhandled’ by the knife-wielding defendant.”

The Supreme Court did not find Martinez to violate any of the three rules in the Arias trial. However, The Arizona Court of Appeals discussed Martinez’s conduct during the trial in an oral argument in October.

The appeals court called it “an egregious case of misconduct by a highly-experienced prosecutor” and referred Martinez’s actions to the State Bar.

Keenan said the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice is hopeful that allegations of misconduct will be taken more seriously.

The organization hopes the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office will learn from the court’s opinion and “finally end the office’s well-known culture of impunity.”

After the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice’s complaint was filed, a lot would happen before a decision was made on the alleged misconduct.

In September 2016, the Attorney Probable Cause Committee found probable cause for Martinez violating three rules concerning the attorney’s conduct. The committee issued an order of admonition and probation, which required Martinez to complete nine hours of continuing legal education and professionalism courses, as well as pay for the costs.

However, Martinez objected and asked for formal proceedings, according to court records.

The State Bar filed a formal complaint against Martinez.

A disciplinary hearing was held in 2017. Presiding Disciplinary Judge William J. O’Neil presides over a three-member panel that issues decisions on disciplinary cases.

According to court records, the panel dismissed the complaint after a day of testimony, saying the State Bar failed to prove Martinez violated any ethical rules.

The State Bar appealed. The Arizona Supreme Court remanded the case back to the panel in 2018. The panel again determined the State Bar failed to prove Martinez violated ethical rules.

The State Bar, Martinez and O’Neil are also waiting for the Arizona Supreme Court to address another disciplinary case against the prosecutor.

In March 2019, the State Bar accused Martinez of sexually harassing coworkers at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and an employee at the Maricopa County Superior Court, having a relationship with a blogger during the Arias trial and communicating with a juror.

O’Neil dismissed the allegations concerning employees inside the County Attorney’s Office and communicating with a juror.

The State Bar filed a petition for review with the Arizona Supreme Court in February, accusing O’Neil of abusing his discretion and acting arbitrarily and capriciously.

“In the age of #MeToo, sexual harassment in the workplace is no longer accepted,” the State Bar stated in its petition. “Absent this Court’s declaration that sexual harassment in the workplace by lawyers is unethical and unprofessional, neither lawyers nor the public can have any confidence that the practice of law will be free from such abhorrent behavior.”

In a response filed to the court, Martinez’s lawyer Don Wilson stated the judge relied on rules concerning unprofessional conduct and the practice of the law when making his decision.

“The State Bar admits there is no specific rule regulating the interactions between an attorney and law clerks or prohibiting sexual harassment,” Wilson stated.

Also, Martinez is appealing the County Attorney’s decision to dismiss him in February. The office is accusing Martinez of retaliating against women who claimed he sexually harassed them.

“Your conduct has created an environment at MCAO that is now impossible to manage effectively,” the County Attorney’s Office said in a notice of intent to dismiss. “For example, we must work to keep you away from those you victimized.”

In a March letter, Martinez’s attorney Thomas Brown, said his client’s career and personal integrity “have been perhaps irreparably tarnished by a vendetta against him.”

Creosote Partners is an Arizona firm focused on legislative advocacy, coalition building, and strategic communications.

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