Trombi v. Hon. Donahoe/Alvarez-Miranda (12/22/2009)

January 8, 2010

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That Superior Courts Have the Authority to Conduct Contempt Proceedings Against the Sheriff's Office for Failure to Timely Transport Prisoners and That Civil Contempt Sanctions Must Serve a Compensating or Coercive Function.

After repeated failures by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (“MCSO”) to timely transport in-custody defendants to court appearances, the Maricopa County Superior Court issued orders to show cause in thirty different criminal cases. The orders were directed at Deputy Chief David Trombi, who is the MCSO officer in charge of prisoner transport and asked Trombi to show cause why he should not be held in contempt. Judge Gary E. Donahoe conducted a consolidated evidentiary hearing on the thirty orders and issued an order finding Trombi in contempt. Judge Donahoe ordered Trombi to pay designated sums to the jurors, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and defendants whose cases were delayed because of the failure to timely transport defendants. Judge Donahoe also ordered Trombi to pay $2,000 to the Superior Court but specified that Trombi would be relieved of this obligation if MCSO presented a signed agreement to the court agreeing to abide by its orders and timely deliver inmates to their hearings. Trombi brought a special action to challenge the court’s contempt order.

The Arizona Appeals Court partially granted relief and partially denied relief. The Appeals Court held that the Superior Court had authority to conduct the contempt proceedings by virtue of A.R.S. § 11-441(A)(4) (which creates a mandatory duty for the sheriff to “[a]ttend all courts . . . when an element of danger is anticipated and attendance is requested by the presiding judge, and obey lawful orders and directions issued by the judge”) and A.R.S. § 12-863 (which grants the court authority to find that a failure to obey orders issued pursuant A.R.S. § 11-441(A)(4) constitutes civil contempt). The Court held that Judge Donahoe did not violate the separation of powers doctrine because the contempt proceedings were not attempting to micromanage the operation of county jails, but were instead addressing the sheriff’s mandatory statutory duty.

The Court further held that the sanctions Judge Donahoe ordered the MCSO pay to jurors, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and defendants were impermissible criminal contempt sanctions because their purpose was neither to compensate the parties nor to coerce Trombi. Criminal contempt sanctions were impermissible in this case because Judge Donahoe failed to follow the procedures set out in Ariz. R. Crim. P. 33 and because there was no finding beyond a reasonable doubt that Trombi acted willfully. The Court concluded, however, that the $2,000 fine was a permissible civil contempt sanction because Trombi was given the opportunity to avoid the fine through future compliance. The Court upheld the civil contempt sanction of $2,000 and vacated the remaining sanctions without prejudice to further contempt proceedings.

Judge Swann authored the opinion; Judges Winthrop and Brown concurred.