Stoddard v. Donahoe – 4/6/2010

April 27, 2010

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Vacates a Civil Contempt Sanction Requiring Petitioner to Publicly Apologize for Secretly Taking and Copying Defense Counsel’s Documents During a Sentencing Hearing Because an Apology Will Not Remedy the Disruption Caused During the Hearing and Will Not Ensure That Petitioner Will Not Repeat Illegal Acts.

While defense counsel was at the podium during a sentencing hearing, Detention Officer Adam Stoddard secretly removed and copied documents from a file on defense counsel’s table.  Based on these actions, the superior court found Stoddard in civil contempt of court and, as a sanction, ordered Stoddard to schedule a press conference at which he was to publicly apologize to defense counsel.  Stoddard refused and, instead, reported to jail.  Arizona Court of Appeals Division One accepted special action jurisdiction over the civil contempt order and sanctions.  The Court confirmed the superior court’s finding that Stoddard was in civil contempt, relying both on Stoddard’s underlying acts as well as the nature of the sanction imposed.  In addition, the Court found no due process violation occurred because Stoddard was given a full and fair opportunity to explain his actions before the lower court.   The Court vacated the sanctions imposed, however, and remanded the matter to the superior court because civil contempt sanctions must be designed to (1) coerce a person to do or refrain from doing some act, and (2) fit the particular circumstances of the contempt.  The Court held that requiring a public apology does not attempt to remedy the disruption to the sentencing hearing nor does it ensure that Stoddard will not repeat his illegal acts.

Judge Portley authored the decision; Judges Winthrop and Downie concurred.