Juan Martinez. The fiery prosecutor who became a celebrity during the infamous trials of Jodi Arias has a well-deserved reputation for breaching ethical norms, disregarding defendant’s constitutional rights, and rampaging past the boundaries in his thirst for convictions and the limelight. Yet, remarkably, he has repeatedly managed to duck professional discipline from the State Bar association. Now, the Bar must decide how to respond to a powerful objection to the most recent dismissal of an ethics complaint against him. While the current allegations are both well-supported and salacious—they involve multiple affairs Martinez had with members of the media and his illicit leak of information about the holdout juror in Arias’s capital sentencing—the bigger story is about the clear patterns exposed by this latest dispute. There’s a pattern of Martinez’s total disregard for the ethical rules, which has been long been buffered by the Arizona Bar’s total inaction in response to his misconduct. In this post, we will briefly review the current controversy and then zoom out to provide additional context for the Bar’s incomprehensible failure to act.
For a quick refresher, we wrote about Martinez before in July 2015 and again in September 2015. This snippet, provided in the Fair Punishment Project’s death penalty report titled “Too Broken to Fix,” quickly summarizes Martinez’s history:
Juan Martinez once compared a Jewish defense lawyer to Adolf Hitler and his “Big Lie,” a tactic the Arizona Court of Appeals deemed “reprehensible.” The Arizona Supreme Court has called out Martinez by name during oral argument, and found that he committed misconduct in at least three capital cases, including Lynch v. Arizona, a case that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed . . . for unrelated reasons. The state court found 17 instances in which Juan Martinez acted inappropriately in that one death penalty case alone.
The current complaint against Martinez relates to his behavior during and after his prosecution of Jodi Arias. (Lawyers now representing Arias lodged the grievance.) The complaint explains how the prosecutor developed and leveraged relationships with two women who blogged throughout Jodi Arias’s trials so that he could obtain and disseminate information to benefit the prosecution. Most disturbingly, he enlisted one of these women to help him gather “dirt” about a seated juror in the hopes that he could disqualify that juror whom he believed was an obstacle to his goal of putting Arias on death row. The bar complaint and the objection to its dismissal also provide compelling evidence that Martinez improperly leaked personal information about this juror, Juror 17, to one of his lovers, thus potentially outing the juror who refused to vote for a death sentence. Finally, the objection also indicates that Martinez pursued contact with a juror who had been dismissed in the midst of the sentencing retrial. In addition to receiving nude photos from that woman, Martinez sought confidential information about what the selected jurors had discussed.
Because his conduct appears to be so intertwined with his sexual relationships with two women who blogged about Jodi Arias’s trial, it is easy to see how sex would dominate the headlines. Indeed, the State Bar’s investigation and dismissal essentially reduced the complaint to one about Martinez’s personal behavior, concluding that a “sexual relationship,” “standing alone [ ] does not constitute a violation of the ethical rules . . . .” But, the objection, filed on February 9, responds forcefully and persuasively. It refocuses on the real ethical issues at stake:
[T]he sex is not the point. The undisputable facts are that he engaged in improper, undisclosed relationships with these members of the media covering the case; provided them after-hours access to non-public areas of the M[aricopa] C[ounty] A[ttorney’s] O[ffice] offices and non-public information about the case; used them in many ways including by asking and allowing them to ‘help’ him . . . with the prosecution of a death penalty case, and; provided confidential sealed information to one of them in order to disqualify the hold-out juror who denied him of the death sentence he so vigorously sought that are at the heart of this bar charge.
According to the objection, the core issue here is the quality of the investigation conducted by the Bar. Despite being handed some two-dozen witnesses by Arias’s lawyers, the Bar’s lawyer, Craig Henley, and his staff interviewed a number you can count with just one hand in the span of about a year. A half-hearted investigation yielded minimal results, and that weak evidence is all the bar looked at when deciding how to dispose of the complaint.
Make no mistake, the conduct for which the Bar refuses to discipline Martinez is egregious. His contribution to outing Juror 17 itself raises serious legal questions about privacy and the confidentiality of juror information in Arizona. The real-world impact must also be considered. Juror 17 immediately began receiving death threats after the trial. To protect her, local authorities provided her security, undoubtedly at significant expense to taxpayers. Moreover, Martinez evidently flouted court orders, professional norms, and office practices when he shared private and confidential information to the two media members with whom he was romantically involved. Finally, his efforts to learn more about the jury’s deliberations from the dismissed juror contravene ethical rules, and, as the dismissal letter notes, “jeopardize the sanctity of the jury system.” Considering the grave implications, it is stunning that the Bar did not conduct a more thorough investigation or rely on readily-available evidence to find probable cause to move the case forward.
Or is it stunning? Perhaps the State Bar of Arizona, like most other state bars, lacks the independence or the fortitude to do what is right here. According to Michael Kiefer at The Arizona Republic, Martinez has been the subject of six(!) bar complaints since Arias was sentenced. None has resulted in discipline. In just one of these six cases, the State Bar pushed for Martinez to be placed on probation for one year, but a panel dismissed the complaint after an evidentiary hearing. While Maricopa’s County Attorney Bill Montgomery has suggested that the problem is people can file complaints willy-nilly, the real problem is that the Bar refuses to hold Martinez accountable. His record of misconduct speaks for itself. Despite black-and-white judicial findings that Martinez breaks ethical rules, the disciplinary body has never punished him.
In this sense, Martinez is a poster-child for the current accountability crisis. He wins praise and positive public attention. Other prosecutors celebrate his success. In an earlier report about Martinez’s prosecutorial misconduct, Michael Kiefer shared that “The National District Attorneys Association honored Martinez with its ‘Home Run Hitter Award for Outstanding Prosecution’ for 2013 because of the Arias murder trial and conviction.” (Though, to be fair, while they don’t seem bothered by his disregard for the law, some prosecutors have expressed annoyance at Martinez’s “monumental ego.”) Judges refuse to reverse the convictions he has obtained through misconduct. As we wrote in 2015:
What is most disturbing about the Martinez situation . . . is the fact that, while his conduct has been recorded in the press, and while he has been chastised by some Arizona courts for his behavior, the court system as a whole, as evidenced in Lynch, and other Arizona Supreme Court decisions, has permitted him to continue breaking rules, and thus winning convictions while cheating.
And, the State Bar will not follow through with discipline, even in cases where courts have already made clear that Martinez behaved unethically. With these three trends—(1) professional advancement despite misconduct, (2) the judiciary’s unwillingness to reverse ill-gotten convictions, and (3) state bar inaction—Arizona has cultivated the very environment in which prosecutorial misconduct thrives. (Michael Kiefer’s excellent and epic multi-part series on prosecutorial misconduct proves this point.) There are a whole lot of carrots available to those who seek convictions at all costs, and there is no stick in sight to punish them when they break the rules.
The Attorney Discipline Probable Cause Committee will soon decide whether to sustain the dismissal, overturn it, or require Bar counsel to conduct a more thorough investigation. Either or both of the latter two options seem appropriate. Nevertheless, given the state’s dismal track record, a betting person might be wise to bet on dismissal. If Martinez emerges professionally unscathed yet again, the system can and will be seen as little more than a rubber-stamping operation: whatever the prosecutor wants, he gets. That’s a motto Juan Martinez seems to live by.