Gila County’s chief deputy attorney will go before a disciplinary panel in April where he could face disbarment or a lesser punishment if the panel decides he acted unprofessionally in the courtroom.
Shawn Fuller is accused of violating three rules of professional conduct, including engaging in disruptive behavior and failing to maintain respect for the court, according to an Arizona State Bar complaint. Fuller allegedly acted rudely to defense lawyer Anna Ortiz then walked out on Judge Peter Cahill.
A member of the state bar counsel investigated these allegations and summarized them in a five-page complaint.
The first incident reportedly occurred April 3 between Fuller and Ortiz on the first day of a trial before Judge Robert Duber.
When Ortiz made an oral motion to preclude a certain report from trial, Fuller reportedly responded “No, you did not.”
Duber told Fuller to address the court and not Ortiz.
“According to Judge Duber, “Mr. Fuller’s body language — turning toward opposing counsel and leaning forward — seemed to me to clearly express a purposeful posture of dominance.”
Later, Ortiz told Duber she was concerned about some of the statements Fuller had made in front of the jury, including about certain transcripts and police reports. Ortiz said she leaned over and told Fuller she would not like him to submit these things and Fuller reportedly said, “I bet you wouldn’t.”
Fuller denied he ever said that, but the court clerk said she heard Fuller make the comment.
In another case, as Judge Cahill reprimanded him for interrupting defense counsel Fuller got up and walked out of the court, saying he would no longer tolerate what was happening, according to the complaint.
Cahill ordered Fuller back into the court and he returned, but not before telling Cahill to address him as “Mr. Fuller.”
County Attorney Bradley Beauchamp who was present in court during the incident later told the Roundup that he told Fuller to leave and then said he would take over representing the prosecution.
During an earlier hearing in the case, on March 13, Fuller reportedly again interrupted the defense lawyer in court. He also seemed to ignore Cahill when he spoke, according to the complaint.
During all this, the defendant and other in-custody defendants observed Fuller’s behavior.
“Movement in the courtroom presents security challenges,” Cahill said. “If defendants were to think that the court tolerated participants leaving at will — that it was permissible for even prosecutors to storm out of the courtroom in anger — security risks increase.”
Cahill found Fuller in civil contempt after walking out of the courtroom, but later revoked the order after Fuller apologized.
Since then, Fuller has had nearly all of his cases reassigned from Cahill. Under Rule 10.2, each side is allowed to file a motion for a change of judge without stating a reason.
“I personally notice Judge Cahill based on reasons not specifically forbidden and enumerated under Rule 10.2,” Fuller said in a text message. “My office does not have a policy regarding Rule 10.2.”
At a recent case management conference, Cahill commented that he has fewer criminal cases on his calendar, noting he only had six when he usually has 30 to 40. He asked a new attorney working for the county attorney’s office if it was because of some policy. The lawyer said he knew of no such policy.
Because of Fuller’s behavior before the court in March and April, someone submitted a complaint to the State Bar. Complaints are anonymous.
Bar counsel found enough evidence to show Fuller had violated the rules of professional conduct and sent the charges to a probable cause panel. The panel consisted of nine members, including six lawyers and three members of the public. Committee member Daisy Flores excused herself from the decision on the grounds she had served as Gila County attorney until unseated by Fuller’s boss, County Attorney Bradley Beauchamp.
The panel decided there was enough information to move forward with an investigation. Not all cases get to this level though. Many times a lawyer is put on probation or given a warning.
In Fuller’s case, a formal investigation ensued and the bar prepared a complaint.
A disciplinary proceeding in the matter is set for April 9-11 before a three-member panel consisting of Arizona Supreme Court’s presiding disciplinary judge, a volunteer lawyer and a member of the public.
Fuller could reach a settlement before the hearing. If not, the panel will hear the evidence and possibly disbar, suspend or reprimand Fuller if they find wrongdoing.