Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lawless files complaint against Judge Leonardo

Ardent supporters of convicted double murderer Shawna Forde have filed a complaint with the Commission on Judicial Conduct against Pima County Superior Court Judge John S. Leonardo.

Judge John S. Leonardo
Forde was convicted last month two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Raul “Junior” Flores and his daughter, Brisenia, 9, as well as one count of the attempted first-degree murder of Gina Marie Gonzalez; one count of burglary in the first-degree; one count of aggravated assault, serious physical injury; one count of aggravated assault, deadly weapon/dangerous instrument; one count of armed robbery; and one count of aggravated armed robbery. The jury sentenced her to death on both murder counts. She has not been sentenced on the other charges.

Posted online

A copy of the complaint may be viewed at the Internet website, Justice for Shawna Forde. The complaint form clearly states the confidential nature of complaints leveled against judicial officers. “Under the rules approved by the Arizona Supreme Court, complaints may be made public at the conclusion of an investigation. However, if a complaint is dismissed, all personal information will be kept confidential.”

Joining Lawless in filing the complaint are John Lyon and Arizonans for Justice. They list an address in Glendale, Ariz.

The complaint lists two reporters as potential witnesses: Kim Smith, with the Arizona Daily Star, and Terry Greene Sterling, a Phoenix freelance reporter representing The Daily Beast. 

Minimum standards

Laine Lawless
The complaint states that Leonardo’s “actions during the trial consistently violated minimum standards of judicial ethics. Mishandling of Shawna Forde’s murder trial was unfair and unduly prejudicial in favor of the prosecution.”

The first issue raised in the complaint was a violation of Rule 8, the rule that governs the time limits for cases to come to trial or to be resolved with a non-trial disposition. “The case took more than 18 months to come to trial, a ridiculously long time,” the complaint states. “There was nothing about Shawna’s case that required such a long pretrial period of incarceration.”

The second issue raised was Leonardo’s refusal to grant two motions for a change of venue due to pretrial publicity. “This became especially important after Tucson’s largest newspaper, the Arizona Daily Star, ran some in depth, highly-prejudicial coverage of Ms. Forde’s personal life and the various legal motions that led up to the trial.” The complaint also raises the issue of the Jan. 8 shootings of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D., Ariz., and the fatal wounding of six others including U.S. District Judge John Roll.

The third issue involved Leonardo’s failure to provide for persons attending the trial to adequately be able to observe and hear the trial proceedings. “Microphones were available, but the judge did not use his nor did he require the witnesses or attorneys to use theirs,” the complaint stated.

Undercover witness

The fourth issue raised was verbal order from Leonardo excluding Lawless from the courthouse unless she was summoned to testify and his order that Lawless not visit Forde at the Pima County Adult Detention Center for the duration of the proceedings. “This was done in collusion with the prosecutors who had unduly branded her as a potential witness; in spite of this she was not called.” A complaint with the State Bar of Arizona was filed by Lawless last week against Deputy County Attorneys Rick Unklesbay and Kellie Johnson regarding this issue.  

The complaint further alleges that Leonardo’s order for no contact between Lawless and Forde “was a violation of both parties’ First Amendment rights and the right of freedom of association for both women.”

The complaint does not mention that Lawless attempted to enter the courtroom in disguise in order to observe the proceedings.

No evidence

The fifth issue alleged in the complaint was that Leonardo instructed the jury “that they did not need to be convinced that Shawna had been at the scene of the crime to find her guilty of first-degree murder.” The complaint states that the jury was allowed to believe that Forde had instructed the persons committing the shootings as proof that she was guilty. “Absolutely no evidence was ever introduced at trial to prove that Shawna ever told anyone to kill someone,” the complaint continued. “The principle of ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’ went out the widow after the judge’s instructions.”

The sixth issue raised was Leonardo’s decision to not direct a verdict of acquittal at the conclusion of the prosecution case. “The prosecution had no case even approaching proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” the complaint stated.

The final issue raised was the reservation by Lawless and Lyon that further complaints may be may once transcripts of the trial are available.