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Lawyers lose in fight over DUI trials

Lawyers lose in fight over
DUI trials

Michael Kiefer
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 23, 2006 12:00 AM

The presiding criminal judge of Maricopa County Superior Court on Wednesday struck down a challenge by a group of public defenders hoping to disqualify the County Attorney's Office from trying the cases of 25 Hispanic and Native American DUI defendants.

The attorneys maintained that there was a conflict of interest between the court and County Attorney's Office because of a federal lawsuit brought against the court by County Attorney Andrew Thomas over the constitutionality of the court's Spanish-language and Native American DUI probation programs.

Judge James Keppel ruled that there was no conflict.

"For the same reason that the court is not required to recuse itself from these criminal prosecutions, the county attorney may continue to represent the state and appear before any of the judges of this court," he wrote.

In a court hearing on the matter Tuesday, attorneys for both sides promised to appeal Keppel's decision if they lost.

Attorney Edward Conter, speaking on behalf of the other public defenders who filed the motion to disqualify the county attorney, said that they would consider the needs of the individual defendants before bringing a special action to the Court of Appeals.

Keppel also denied the attorneys' request to put the defendants' cases on hold pending any Appeals Court decision.

Thomas filed suit in federal court on Feb. 28, claiming that special probation programs for Spanish-speaking and Native Americans were "race-based" and unconstitutional. He further alleged that the probation violators among the Spanish speakers were punished less harshly than DUI defendants in the general population.

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