Forgive me, as a former federal prosecutor for 17 years, it is hard to watch the Jodi Arias trial, not because she is guilty and deserves the death penalty but because of the incredibly poor performance by Judge Sherry Stephens. The trial has become a circus, and spun even more wildly out of control during jury deliberations.
Judge Stephens is a judge who has no business being a judge – an official who undermines any concept of the administration of justice. My laundry list of complaints goes on for pages and I will not take up too much space writing about all of them.
First, Judge Stephens should have prohibited Jodi Arias from giving any television interviews during the trial and most especially during the deliberations. The jury has been instructed to avoid the media and any mention about the case and the judge should have gagged her. There is no First Amendment right to speak when the speech may undermine the very fairness of a lengthy and difficult criminal trial. (Sheriff Joe’s constant refrain of support for the First Amendment right of prisoners was laughable and only revealed his ignorance of any concept of fairness and protection of the jury’s integrity).
Second, Judge Stephens forgot to read a portion of the jury instructions to the jury during the penalty phase of the trial. You have got be kidding me? In all my years of trying cases, and watching and supervising other prosecutors try cases, I have never heard of a judge forgetting to read a portion of the instructions. That is a very important part of the process and every judge is especially careful when doing so.
Third, Judge Stephens lost control of the courtroom from the very beginning. She permitted the defense to request sidebars whenever they felt like it, dragging out the case, making incessant and ridiculous objections. It is a wonder that Juan Martinez still has his hair. When a judge loses control of the courtroom they undermine the very integrity of the judicial process. I have seen judges who run a tight, efficient trial and make clear their expectations of the participants. (One judge used to deny requests for a sidebar, and require the parties to stay after the jury leaves and consider them late in the evening).
Fourth, Judge Stephens should have finished this trial in one month – no more, no less. If she had the intellectual capacity and judicial temperament to control a trial, she would have made sure the trial was over. Instead, she granted numerous delays, requests for more time and other stalling tactics, all of which just allowed the defense to control the pace of the trial. That is inconsistent with any concept of justice or fairness.
I do not know how the sentencing verdict will come out – Jodi Arias clearly deserves the death penalty. Judge Stephens, however, has made it as difficult as possible for the victim’s family, which has been in court every day, and for the government to prosecute this case. Surely, there are better candidates for judicial appointments in Arizona.