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Maricopa County Superior Court judge Stephen Hopkins was reprimanded for unprofessional conduct after a prosecutor and a public defender joined in on a complaint.
Judge Stephen Hopkins was reprimanded in June by the Commission on Judicial Conduct after James Haas, then a public defender, filed a complaint in February. Haas retired June 30, according to the State Bar of Arizona.
Barbara Marshall, prosecutor and chairperson of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office ethics committee, joined in on Haas’ complaint and said the prosecutor’s office shared the concerns “about the lack of respect shown to litigants by Judge Hopkins.”
Haas accused the judge of a pattern of unprofessional conduct. The commission was provided video clips showing Hopkins’ behavior and pointed to six cases from May 2019 to January of this year as examples.
The complaint claims the judge violated the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct.
“Judge Hopkins has demonstrated a pattern of unprofessional conduct through his discourteous and impatient treatment of defendants, their attorneys, and prosecutors,” the attorneys wrote in the complaint.
Hopkins denied the allegations in a response sent to the commission in May. He accused the lawyers of carefully selecting cases for inclusion that were not “indicative of my judicial demeanor generally.”
The commission publicly reprimanded Hopkins for violating three rules and ordered him to “complete training on demeanor” within a year of June 10. The training must be approved by the commission’s executive director, and Hopkins must provide a proof of completion.
April Elliott, disciplinary counsel, said in a June 30 ruling denying Hopkins’ motion for reconsideration that the success of the judicial system requires the public to trust the judges who serve on the bench.
“When a judge fails to afford all interested parties the right to be heard and fails to remain ‘patient, dignified, and courteous,’ such behavior undermines that trust,” she stated.
The commission denied a second motion for reconsideration by the judge on Aug. 7.
The Commission on Judicial Conduct
The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct, an independent state agency, investigates complaints against judges. It oversees all of Arizona’s judges, court commissioners, hearing officers, referees and other judicial officers.
The commission consists of six judges appointed by the Arizona Supreme Court, two attorneys appointed by the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Arizona and three members of the public appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.
Court employees, administrative law judges and federal judges are not regulated under the commission.
Who is Judge Hopkins?
Hopkins became a judge for the Maricopa County Superior Court in 2015 after a career as a private attorney for several years at his own practice and at Snell & Wilmer.
He has served on the bench in Family Court and Criminal Court. He has sat on the bench for high-profile cases, including the trial of the former Hacienda Healthcare nurse accused of raping and impregnating an incapacitated patient.
“I have had experience with what is expected of judges both here and across the country,” he wrote to the commission. “I believe that overall my judicial temperament is consistent or above the norm for judges before whom I practiced.”
He also told the commission that he is familiar with the conduct of his fellow judges in the criminal department.
Hopkins stated that Marshall has never appeared in his courtroom and her complaint doesn’t reference any specific case.
“I believe my interactions with lawyers from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office share the concerns set forth in the Complaint,” he wrote. “I am actually stunned that the position of ‘the Office’ is that the lawyers within the County Attorney’s Office share the concerns set forth in the Complaint.”
Elliott wrote in her ruling, “Respondent has been on the bench for approximately five years, and he has been a practicing attorney for almost thirty-five years. He should be well-versed in his ethical obligations under the Code.”
Elliott wrote when both parties of a criminal matter share “collective concerns” about a judge it makes the allegations more credible and can be viewed as an aggravating factor.
The judge referred to his performance reviews and stated that 97% of attorneys and 96% of litigants rated him satisfactory in regard to judicial temperament.
Hopkins said to his knowledge the “so-called stakeholders” in the criminal justice system have not expressed concerns about him to the presiding criminal court judge.
What does the complaint say?
The complaint claimed the judge has lost his temper, yelled at parties in the courtroom and behaved in “a manner that is undignified.”
“While each of these violations, standing alone, may appear deminimis, Judge Hopkins’ volatility while on the bench, which results in unpredictable episodes of perceived hostility towards the parties, undermines confidence in the judiciary and impairs the administration of justice,” the complaint stated.
It pointed to the cases against Clifford D. Rogers, Giovani Melendez, Shepail Vaughn, Jayvion Esters, Anthony Albert Salazar and Barbara Valenzuela.
On May 28, 2019, Hopkins shouted at Valenzuela when she became “emotional and distraught” during a settlement conference, according to Haas.
The judge “shouted at the defendant, angrily proclaimed ‘We’re done here!’ and exited the courtroom,” the complaint stated.
Hopkins denied that he didn’t try to defuse the situation. He wrote in his response his plan going into the settlement conference was to be direct when explaining issues. He said the defendant was crying from the beginning.
Haas claimed Hopkins was “visibly angry” at Salazar’s new attorney during a court proceeding on June 5, 2019. The defense attorney asked for a continuance of the trial date since Salazar’s former lawyer was leaving the public defender’s office. The prosecutor agreed with the request.
According to the complaint, the judge denied the request and raised his voice in a hostile manner.
Hopkins disputed the claim in his response and said he wasn’t hostile but firm. He wrote that the defense attorney wouldn’t be prepared no matter how much time he had.
On Oct. 30, 2019, Hopkins “appeared to become enraged” at Esters and his attorney by interrupting the defense “with an aggressive challenge” to a statement. According to the complaint, the attorney tried to explain there was a misunderstanding.
“Judge Hopkins raised his voice at the attorney, threatened to hold him in contempt of court, called his sentencing memoranda “ridiculous” and continued to angrily interject his disapproval as the attorney attempted to speak on his client’s behalf,” the complaint stated.
The judge wrote to the commission that the memoranda made it seem as if the defense was blaming the mother of the defendant’s child for the crime. He believed they were “providing a false narrative” in order to strengthen a case in Juvenile Court.
It claimed on Dec. 4, 2019, Hopkins was “visibly irritated with an attorney during a proceeding for Shepail Vaughn’s case. Haas wrote the judge expressed disagreement in “an angry manner.”
On Dec. 9, 2019, Tamika Wooton, former Democratic candidate for county attorney, was late to court. The judge told the parties he “usually” brings the jury into the courtroom to wait on the late lawyer’s arrival and warned it would be done in the future.
“Such an action would obviously be prejudicial to a defendant if it is his lawyer who arrives late,” Haas wrote.
Haas claimed in the case against Rogers, Hopkins yelled and “berated” the prosecutor for the length of a cross examination on January 9. According to the complaint, the judge had the jury leave the courtroom while the lawyer was questioning the defendant and then became hostile when finding out the cross examination wasn’t close to ending.
“The judge yelled at the attorney, stating: ‘That’s not going to work! We’re getting this case done today! You need to move your case along, counsel, to something that matters!,” according to the complaint.
In his response to the complaint, Hopkins wrote that the prosecutor was “obviously” surprised when the defendant chose to testify during the trial and that the lawyer was unprepared. The judge said the cross-examination was more than an hour.
Hopkins wrote the prosecutor’s response of not knowing when he would be done with the cross-examination was “insolent and disrespectful, it was also false.”
“I admit that I raised the decibel level of my voice during a part of this exchange. In reviewing the FTR my voice was raised more than it seemed at the time,” he wrote. “But in this case as well as the selected cases that are referenced in the Complaint I did not use derogatory or profane language.”
Hopkins wrote his mother was in the courtroom that day and told the detention officer that “she had never in her entire life heard me raise my voice and was quite surprised.” The detention officer said the lawyer deserved it, Hopkins wrote.
According to the judge, the court reporter told him “bravo, judge” and said the lawyer’s behavior was rude. Hopkins wrote that he told the employee he regretted it.