News from the dark side. Maricopa County is the fourth largest county in the country. And, at least as far as the judicial system is concerned, things have pretty much gone to hell there.
A couple months ago, I showed a video of a deputy sheriff rifling through an attorney's file during a hearing. You can watch it here, too; it's starts about 45 seconds in. The most astonishing thing is the brazenness of the act, and the fact that it occurred in the plain sight of the judge and the prosecutors, who said nothing. (The defense attorney's back was turned.) Although Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio stood by his man, the upshot was that the Deputy was held in contempt and sentenced to 30 days in jail unless he apologized. Which he didn't.
Arpaio bills himself as "the toughest sheriff in the country," and has earned a reputation for using his office to punish his political enemies. He burnished that reputation when, the next day, Joe Thomas, the county prosecuting attorney, who by all accounts is a stooge of Arpaio's, had the judge who sentenced the deputy sheriff indicted for bribery and obstruction of justice. As this account indicates, the basis for the charges is murky at best; Thomas confessed at the press conference announcing the indictment that he probably wasn't "explaining this well," and inexplicably appealed to the journalists to "help him out."
The journalists weren't willing to do that, and neither is the defense bar. To protest the indictment of the judge, and Arpaio's veiled threats against other members of the judiciary, on Monday of Christmas week, they held a noon rally at the county courthouse. As the picture shows, not exactly your typical protest.
Career alternatives. Frank Pignatelli had a good gig going. He was one of the top criminal defense attorneys in Akron, and represented defendants in several major drug cases. Apparently, his representation continued beyond the courtroom; Federal investigators looking into an extensive crystal meth and ecstasy operation intercepted numerous telephone conversations in which Pignatielli was overheard instructing members of the enterprise about ways to avoid law enforcement detection and how to launder proceeds of the drug trafficking. He also brought in new distributors.
In December of 2005, cops raided Pignatelli's home and found $639,000 in cash. Turns out that didn't affect Pignatelli's representation of his clients. He continued to do so, while working as an informant for the Feds, resulting in 30 arrests. The latest produced a 15-year prison sentence for a former client of Pignatelli's.
Of course, this adversely impacted the viability of Frank's defense practice here in Ohio, so, heeding the advice of Horace Greeley, he headed west, setting up shop in Denver, Colorado, where he wound up representing drug defendants in Federal court. The past is prologue, as they say.
Turns out that Frank may have to start studying for the Malaysian bar exam. Colorado authorities got wind of his background, and checked his bar application. Sure enough, he'd answered "no" to the question of whether he'd ever been under investigation, which was somewhat at odds with being on the brink of indictment in a drug conspiracy. (All charges against Pignatelli were dropped in return for his cooperation.) Pignatelli's law license in Colorado was suspended earlier this year.
It may be that Frank is simply ahead of his time. Earlier this week came the story of Terry L. Haddock, a 52-year-old Omaha lawyer:
More than 30 times this year, investigators say, Shannon Williams orchestrated a multimillion-dollar marijuana ring from inside the Douglas County Jail.
In one-on-one sessions with a jail visitor, Williams would use the visitor's cell phone to call associates and instruct them on how to divvy up the gobs of marijuana and money his operation was taking in.
He would confide in the visitor about his past exploits, claiming he had earned $15 million to $20 million while operating the marijuana ring in Omaha. He would ask the visitor to launder the money he was making. And he would use the visitor's cell phone to try to arrange hits: one to beat up his longtime defense attorney and another to "put a few into the back" of an Omaha man who had been messing with Williams' girlfriend.
All the while, the visitor would take it in, nodding and promising to follow Williams' orders.
Turns out that jailhouse visitor was no friend, no ally, no dutiful worker. He was a government informant.
And here's the jaw dropper: He was a lawyer -- an Omaha attorney who Williams says was representing him.
Maybe he and Frank can start a firm together.