Mayor's Trial Lost Focus

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Payson Mayor Ken Murphy's latest trial lasted a mind-numbing two days.

The mayor was charged with disorderly conduct-fighting -- a class one misdemeanor -- for an altercation he had with then-Fire Marshal Jack Babb outside the Ox Bow Saloon during August Doin's 2002. Depending on who you believe, the entire incident lasted somewhere between 30 seconds and five minutes.

To fit within the parameters of this particular disorderly conduct count, the prosecution had to prove to Judge Pro Tem John Perlman that Murphy's behavior was "seriously disruptive."

Had the focus of the trial stayed on this question, it could have been over in half a day. At least that's how it seemed to many of us who sat through it.

Instead we were treated to long stretches of questioning that seemed to be going absolutely nowhere or, worse yet, seemed to be pursuing peripheral matters that had no bearing on whether Murphy's behavior outside the Ox Bow was "seriously disruptive."

An inordinate amount of time, for example, was spent on whether the Ox Bow was really as crowded as Babb claimed. Testimony ranged from shoulder-to-shoulder to "you could fire a cannon ball through there." It didn't affect the only question that mattered: was the mayor's behavior "seriously disruptive"?

An inordinate amount of time was spent on the "in and out" formula Babb implemented to reduce and then stabilize the number of patrons in the bar. One witness said it was six out, one in. Another said it was six out, two in. Yet another thought she remembered it as three out, one in.

Too much time also was spent on whether and how frequently the mayor did or didn't use the "F" word. Some witnesses said they heard it, others said they didn't. Some heard it once, some four times, some more. In the end, all the lawyers and Judge Perlman agreed -- Murphy was not charged with using abusive language, so it didn't affect the matter at hand.

And there was more, including an untoward amount of time listening to testimony about Jack Babb's attire and way too much time establishing the fact that the town really needed to recoup some tourist revenue that weekend in the wake of a bad season caused by fire and drought.

None of this affected the only question that mattered -- when the mayor stepped outside the Ox Bow and confronted Jack Babb was his behavior "seriously disruptive"?

That question was finally answered at 6:20 p.m. Friday when Perlman pronounced Murphy guilty. But as the courtroom emptied into the gathering dusk, another question had replaced it: Why weren't the taxpayers of Gila County saved a bundle of money by keeping the trial focused on the only question that mattered?

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