Sat, July 20

Street: DeRienzo’s absence from meeting factor in firing

Thursday, a hearing officer had to remind DeRienzo multiple times that certain questions demand only "yes" and "no" answers and that his attorney will get a chance to revisit the subjects later.

However, DeRienzo appeared to have a hard time following those rules as he attempted numerous times to explain why he did what he did. Meanwhile, defense attorney James Jellison dissected the information to the smallest fragments in an effort to identify what kind of truth lies beneath.

DeRienzo testified Wednesday that his office withdrew from representing the clients in the racial profiling case because he received an e-mail from Davis in which "he was threatening to close my office."

On Thursday, DeRienzo said he never asked Davis what he really meant in that e-mail. He added that he took advice from an Arizona State Bar attorney, who told him to withdraw based on the information he provided from Davis’ e-mail. DeRienzo admitted he provided the bar attorney with only Davis’ e-mail and did not share his own e-mail that he had previously sent to the board. He also said he did not obtain a written document that shows what the bar counsel recommendation was.

Initially, the court consolidated 13 cases involving Mexican and black defendants so that the defense could prove that racial profiling motivated traffic stops on Interstate 17. Alleging traffic violations, the Department of Public Safety arrested all of the suspects on drug-related charges.

DeRienzo said he had asked Deputy Yavapai County Attorney Dennis McGrane to make plea offers to the clients in the racial profiling case.

Also in a letter that the defense retrieved from DeRienzo’s computer, DeRienzo wrote that racial profiling was not his "cause" and that he didn’t have any interest in it.

However, he testified Thursday that it was his cause because "they were my clients," and he had an interest in it. He said he wrote the letter more for himself in response to the April 2003 budget hearing when the board questioned him about the racial profiling case.

Davis told him during that meeting, DeRienzo said, that he hasn’t seen any "blacks picketing" on the streets of Yavapai County.

DeRienzo said Street commented "that her blood pressure went 300 percent" when she learned about it.

DeRienzo also wrote that the racial profiling case "is not a Yavapai County issue and it shouldn’t be paying for it."

He admitted he filed a petition for a special action asking the Court of Appeals to order the trial court to deny the money that would help the defense prove its case of selective enforcement.

He contended that the Court of Appeals petition would keep him from his ethical responsibilities toward his clients. Previously, he testified that the board influenced his decision when he told his lawyers that he will not pay for the racial profiling case.

In his Personnel Board complaint, DeRienzo stated that he didn’t release information about his office withdrawal upon a newspaper Public Records request because he deemed it to be "attorney work product." He said he came to this conclusion on his own and that it conflicted with the advice he received from Dave Hunt, the supervisors’ attorney, who told him to release it because the law said so.

DeRienzo admitted that when he filed a habeas corpus petition in October 2003 on behalf of all inmates because of intolerable jail conditions, he had not done any legal research to confirm that his office has authority to do that since it is considered a civil action. He said that he is not familiar with any other public defender’s office that has done it in the past.

Earlier in his testimony, DeRienzo said the statute that defines the public defender’s responsibilities excludes the filing of civil actions.

He also admitted he never sent a comprehensive letter to the U.S. Department of Justice – which was investigating the jail at that time because it had previously found conditions at the jail in violation of prisoners’ constitutional rights – explaining what those conditions were like.

He also said that he didn’t verify whether County Attorney Sheila Polk would be a proper respondent in the habeas corpus petition.

DeRienzo contended he had conflicts with the County Attorney’s Office and that he attempted to improve that relationship, but didn’t get a positive response from either Polk or McGrane.

DeRienzo said he sent a letter to McGrane, in response to a letter he received from a junior member of that office, claiming that Polk is "self-centered, egotistic and heavy handed." DeRienzo also admitted that he forwarded this critical letter to three judges, among others. "They [the attorney’s office] made no efforts to cooperate with my office prior to that letter," he said.

After sending the letter, now-former Supervisor Gheral Brownlow disciplined DeRienzo by making him read a book about leadership.