After reportedly carrying on a sexting relationship with a client, defense attorney Robert Standage lost his contract with Gila County Superior Court.
As a court-appointed public defender, Standage often represented clients that could not afford to hire their own counsel. One of his clients earlier this year showed Judge Gary Scales explicit text messages, photos and video messages from Standage.
When Judge Robert Duber II asked Standage about the messages, he admitted to carrying on a “text message relationship” with the woman, according to county documents. He denied anything physical had happened.
Standage told the Roundup he has self-reported his actions to the Arizona Bar, which is conducting an investigation. Because that is ongoing, Standage would not comment on the case.
“I am fully cooperating with the Arizona Bar just as I have with Gila County,” he said in an e-mail to the Roundup Tuesday.
On Jan. 21, Duber suspended Standage’s case calendar and on Jan. 24, Gila County cancelled his contract.
Judge Peter Cahill appointed attorney Raymond Geiser as his replacement.
Kendall Rhyne, court administrator and chief probation officer, said Standage’s actions cast “a dark cloud over the courts” and exposed the court and county to liability.
“In a time when citizens are skeptical of the courts, this is an issue that sheds a negative light on the impartiality, objectivity and fairness of our court,” Rhyne said.
Standage reportedly told Rhyne he had no physical contact with the client.
“This conduct is troubling and unethical under any circumstances,” Rhyne wrote Standage. “But because you are appointed counsel, your clients have little if any choice in who represents them. Many of them are vulnerable.”
“They (clients) are in precarious legal situations, all-too-often are in unhealthy psychological conditions, and often have a history of illegal drug use,” he wrote. “As a result, they are particularly susceptible to this sort of misconduct.”
Standage worked with clients in superior court, Globe Justice and some juvenile matters.
Although Standage assured Rhyne nothing like this would happen again, Rhyne said the court had no guarantee since judges don’t directly supervise his work.
Cahill said even with an independent monitor, the court would not risk being “vicariously liable for his actions.”
In 2013, Gila County Probation investigated Standage’s conduct with another client. The Roundup requested a copy of probation’s report on this, but Rhyne denied it, saying the record is protected under state law.
At that time, Duber warned Standage not to get too close to clients, according to Cahill. Standage assured Duber such a problem would not occur again.
“Something like that of course did happen,” Cahill wrote.
Cahill supported Rhyne’s recommendation to cancel Standage’s contract.