Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Lawless files bar complaint against prosecutors in Forde trial

An ardent supporter of convicted murder Shawna Forde has reportedly filed a complaint against Deputy County Attorneys Rick Unklesbay and Kellie Johnson with the State Bar of Arizona.

The complaint filed by Laine Lawless, Mesa, Ariz., has been posted on the website Justice for Shawna Forde. State Bar policy is to not confirm the existence of complaints until some disciplinary action, if any, is taken.

Lawless, a witness who was subpoenaed to testify in the trial for Forde and is also on subpoena for the trials involving co-defendants Jason Bush and Albert Gaxiola, claims collusion between the attorneys and Judge Leonardo. “I am filing this complaint because I was purposely prevented from attending Shawna Forde’s trial (beginning Jan. 14, 2011 in Tucson) by the prosecution team (Kellie Johnson and Rick Unklesbay) in collusion with the judge. The prosecution put me on their ‘witness list’ so that I was not able to attend the trial. Then, they refused to use me, and in fact, I believe, never intended to use me as a witness, possibly because my testimony might conflict with that of Chuck Stonex,” the complaint states.

The complaint asserts that Lawless’ rights were abridged. “As a citizen-reporter, and a writer on Arizona border issues, I have all the same rights as any mainstream media; my only disadvantage is that I do not have a high-priced legal team to enforce my exercise of my constitutional rights. A public trial is open to the public, and anyone, including online writers and non-mainstream media, are allowed to cover it. I am a member of the public and I am a member of the media. The fact that I am writing a book rather than for a periodical doesn’t invalidate my position as a member of the media.”

Lawless in disguise.
Lawless violated a court order on the morning of Jan. 27 when she entered the courtroom of Judge John S. Leonardo at Pima County Superior Court.

Just before opening statements in the case on Jan. 25, all subpoenaed witnesses were ordered to remain outside the courtroom until they are called to testify. Lawless objected to being ordered from the courtroom. “I was told I was not going to be a witness,” she said.  To which Judge Leonardo replied: “If you expect to be a witness you should not be discussing your testimony with anyone.” Lawless replied: “I have not discussed any potential testimony,” and left.

On the morning of Jan. 27, Lawless returned with a couple of bags of clothing, which she provided to defense counsel Jill Thorpe. After the first witness had testified and the second witness of the day, Melanie Aranda, Forde’s half-sister, was being questioned by Johnson, a woman with the facial features of Lawless with black hair that looked like a wig, wearing a black overcoat entered the courtroom and sat down behind detectives. Lawless’ normal hair color is white.

Representatives of local media were about to call her presence to the attention of court officials when a detective turned around and realized who it was. He got the attention of Deputy County Attorney Rick Unklesbay who asked the court to stop proceedings.

The jury was led from the courtroom and Judge Leonardo was informed of the situation. “Ms. Lawless is standing here in some sort of disguise,” Unklesbay said.

Leonardo questioned Lawless as to why she was in apparent violation of his earlier order regarding witnesses. “I am a citizen reporter and have first amendment rights to be here as any other reporter here,” Lawless said.

The complaint Lawless filed with the state bar was not even accurate as to the date that she violated Leonardo’s order. “On February 3, (it was Jan. 27, not Feb. 3) when I was accused of violating a court order, and unlawfully prevented from leaving the courtroom, Judge Leonardo asked both the prosecution and the defense what they wanted done with me. I was not able to hear everything said properly, because a large portion of the participant’s words have been inaudible during the trial due to their refusal to use their microphones. The following is my best recollection of what I did hear. If a transcript is available, and it is accurate, it should reveal what was said, assuming the court reporter could hear all of it.”

After Lawless was detained by detectives, Leonardo questioned counsel as to whether Lawless was still under subpoena. “We have an agreement with the state that she remain under subpoena,” said defense attorney Eric Larsen.

Johnson informed Leonardo that she had received an email from Lawless asserting her right to be present in the courtroom during trial. “Despite what she may believe we have not made any decisions as to whether she would be called as a witness,” she said.

Unklesbay told the court that the previous witness had mentioned to him that Lawless had been discussing the case in the hallway outside the courtroom with another individual prior to her summons to the courtroom to testify. He asked Leonardo to order Lawless to not come to the courthouse unless she was summoned to testify in the case. Larsen added that she be ordered from blogging about the case or doing radio interviews as well. “She has had conversations with my client at the jail about daily court events,” he said.

Leonardo agreed to the requests by the lawyers and ordered Lawless not to come to the courthouse unless she was informed she would be testifying. He also reiterated his earlier order to not discuss her testimony. Lawless asked if he was issuing gag order. “You may call it what you want, but that is my order,” Leonardo said.

Lawless detailed her objections to Leonardo’s order in the state bar complaint.
“The verbal order issued by Judge Leonardo went way beyond the written order eventually recorded.  My best recollection is that Leonardo told me he could put me in jail, but he was going to let me off with a warning, and he ordered me, for the duration of the trial:
1. Not to enter the entire public courthouse;
2. Not to speak about Shawna Forde’s case;
3. Not to speak to the media;
4. Not to discuss my testimony with anyone;
5. Not to talk to Shawna Forde.

“What’s wrong with this order? First of all, the courthouse is the only place where I can access documents related to this case. I don’t have access to Lexus-Nexus or Westlaw subscriptions, so I am limited in my resources to access public documents in any of the Arivaca murder cases. I believe that I was banned, not from Leonardo’s courtroom, but from the entire public building, so that I could not access public documents and display them to the public on the website, Justice for Shawna Forde. And as I explained to Judge Leonardo, I was planning on making a motion to the court, and he responded, ‘You will have to get someone else to do that for you, and you have no standing with this court.’ I object to this. If I need to make a motion to the court, even as a pro se participant, then I do have standing.

“Secondly, not being able to talk about Shawna Forde’s case while the trial is going on, is an infringement on my right to free speech to discuss a public trial. Media daily comments upon the trial. It’s obvious that this order was made to crush any political dissent or criticism, and not only is it an infringement on my right to free speech; it is a perfect example of judicial tyranny.

“Thirdly, being told not to speak to the media while they are interested in speaking to me, while the trial is going on, is an infringement of my right to free speech and my right to promote my work products.

“Fourth, I have not discussed my ‘testimony’ with anyone. I have repeatedly denied discussing whatever comments I might make as a witness, and even media has treaded lightly when asking about that. The bottom line to my ‘testimony’ is that I didn’t see a crime, I didn’t commit a crime, and I didn’t hear anyone talking about a crime. This is a criminal trial, so given those facts, what could I possibly say of value? Fifth, forbidding me to talk to the defendant constitutes a conspiracy to apply cruel and unusual punishment to Shawna Forde. It’s a violation of our rights to freedom of association, and to free speech. Many things are unusual about Shawna Forde’s case. Most cases which consist solely of lies and hearsay evidence would have been dismissed by the combined efforts of a just judge, a motivated defense attorney, and honest prosecutors. This case should never have gone to trial in the first place. Most criminal defendants don’t have very vocal supporters and websites telling the world they are innocent and criticizing the prosecution. Could this conspiracy to silence me be related to the public relations efforts expended on behalf of a defendant who Pima County thought they could railroad to a place ‘where the sun don’t never shine’ without any effective opposition?

“Finally, there exists a collusion between the judge and the prosecution to deny me my right to make a living as a writer and to keep me from exercising any form of free speech which criticizes any of them. Under normal circumstances, a potential witness is asked to testify and then is allowed to attend the rest of the trial; they are not kept on tenterhooks on the possibility that they ‘might’ testify, and their being ‘on the witness list’ is not used to deny them access to a public trial. This is unethical, according to the AZ Rules of Criminal Procedure 9.3 a & b. There exists a ‘conspiracy of silence’ in the Pima County judicial-media complex to keep the railroading of Shawna Forde quiet, and to squelch any truthful reporting on the trial. Pima county and all its legal elite know that if I were allowed access to the public courtroom, I would report in truthful detail on the proceedings, and that reporting might likely expose the shameful fact that ‘the emperor has no clothes.’”

It’s unknown when or if the state bar will respond to the complaint filed by Lawless.