Courtney Bisbee: Part of the Sorry Legacy of Andrew Thomas

Friday, August 24th, 2012

When the Arizona State Bar earlier this year separated former Maricopa County District Attoney Andrew Thomas from his law license, a number of people who had been victimized by this man and his staff felt some sense of vindication. The unfortunate thing, however, was that Thomas was disbarred for bringing a criminal case into a political fight between Sheriff Joe Arpaio and people in the courthouse when, in reality, the conduct of his staff in the wrongful conviction of Courtney Bisbee should have been enough to have a number of prosecutors disbarred forever.

Because I am at a retreat in the high desert hinterlands of Colorado, my posting time is severely limited, and I am going to let the article from the Phoenix New Times tell the whole terrible story in all of its details. What I will say is that this not only was a wrongful conviction, it was a conviction driven by prosecutorial ambition, the greed of families that believed telling lies under oath would enable them to sue someone else for Big Money, and by the general lies and hysteria that have accompanied the Mondale Act since its inception in 1974.

Andrew Thomas was not satisfied with bringing a wrongful case against Courtney; no, he and his political allies had to send an entire SWAT team to arrest an unarmed, diminutive and non-violent woman. Lest anyone think that the prosecution had the “right” motives but wrong facts in this case, think again. The article details the deliberate myopia of Andrew Thomas and others who wanted a scalp for their trophy cases.

I will include a few snippets from the NT piece to point out why I believe this was a travesty of justice:

The state alleged Bisbee had engaged in a mutual grope session with a 13-year-old named Jon Valles. Incredibly, she was supposed to have done this in a room full of teenage witnesses, some of whom had babysat her daughter.

And:

Two weeks following her arrest on February 11, Bisbee was charged with three counts of child molestation and three counts of indecency. The media lumped her in with various high-profile cases of improper student-teacher relations, though Bisbee was not a teacher, and Jon was not her student. Rather, he attended Desert Shadows Middle School, a mile or two south of Horizon.

Bisbee pleaded not guilty, aced a polygraph test, and passed a rigorous screening designed to sniff out pedophiles. Still, she was convicted after a six-day bench trial in early 2006. Despite conflicting testimony and a lack of physical evidence, Superior Court Judge Warren Granville believed Bisbee’s accuser and found Bisbee guilty on two counts of child molestation, resulting in a sentence of 11 years in state prison.

But the case had holes in it, and things started to come apart after Bisbee was convicted:

In 2007, Jon’s elder brother Nik recanted his testimony against Bisbee in a sworn affidavit; he accused his mother and his brother of concocting the tale to establish grounds for a lawsuit.

Since the trial, other witnesses have maintained that Jon lied about Bisbee. Numerous individuals have communicated this information to County Attorney Andrew Thomas, to no avail. The conviction took place under Thomas’ watch, and legal experts assert it is Thomas’ duty as a seeker of justice to investigate this new information.

As I see it, the evidence was there all the time, but people like Thomas who already are fundamentally-dishonest run from the truth like a vampire runs from a cross. And when Thomas left office for his ill-fated run for attorney general of Arizona, his successor was no more willing to take a hard look at the Bisbee conviction than was Thomas.

Unfortunately, prosecutors and judges tend to take convictions as hard-and-fast and in their minds, innocence cannot be a defense, since all accused people MUST be guilty, otherwise they would not have been accused in the first place.

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22 Responses to “Courtney Bisbee: Part of the Sorry Legacy of Andrew Thomas”

  1. #1 |  Omri | 

    It’s worth mentioning that this is the same country where Sheriff Joe’s police force negligently allowed over 100 cases of bona fide child sexual assault go uninvestigated.

  2. #2 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Omri,

    Is it? One thing that I think most people reading about a bunch of these witchhunts will conclude is that there are hysterics out there who sincerely (and wrongly) believe that ANY accusation of child sexual abuse is well founded. And it doesn’t matter if the local authorities have railroaded one or a dozen people based on emotion and in absence of evidence; to these hysterics, if they don’t manage to convict every single person accused, they are in some way ‘soft’ on sex abuse.

    Maybe you are right. Maybe the local panjandrums did let over 100 bona fide cases go un-investigated. But in the present atmosphere I would have to see some damn serious physical evidence before I bought into that.

  3. #3 |  James D | 

    It’s also worth pointing out that the New Times is an extremely biased, left-wing paper that has been caught to be light on the facts many times in the past … if you won’t take stories from ‘right wing’ sources, then you shouldn’t count on ‘left wing’ ones either.

  4. #4 |  Bob Mc | 

    Off Topic:
    Final score at Empire State Building shooting:

    Cops-9
    Bad Guy-2

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/25/nyregion/empire-state-building-shooting.html?_r=1&smid=tw-nytimes

  5. #5 |  Lee L | 

    James D,

    It is also worth pointing out that FACTS are FACTS, whether they are from “right wing” or “left wing” sources. Before you make any comment regarding the Courtney Bisbee case, perhaps you should read the documents. Then come back and make an intelligent, informed comment.

  6. #6 |  William Anderson | 

    James D,

    I am not a left-wing writer looking for a way to bash conservatives. This story happened to be well-written and well-researched, as contrasted with anything the mainstream media did. Your gratuitous remark is not appreciated at all, and it tells me that you do not look at the facts of a story, but rather look solely at the source for credibility.

  7. #7 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Lee L & William Anderson,

    While I agree that James D is quick to dismiss the story, it is always good to identify the bias(s) of your source, where possible. Yes, the story looks well researched in comparison to those done by the MSM, buy there are mold patterns on old bread that look well researched in comparison to the MSM’s usual output.

    I would be slightly more inclined to accept such a story from a Left Wing source, on the grounds that much of the sex-abuse hysteria that I have observed seems to come from the dark underbelly of the Feminist movement. To me it is like Lawrence Tribe’s opinion that the Second Amendment is an individual right; it is more notable because it doesn’t fit the man’s known bias.

    But the foundation of my belief in the story is that persecution (and prosecution) of accused molester has become a Crusade, and I am deeply suspicious of Crusades.

  8. #8 |  Radley Balko | 

    James D:

    Any specific stories you can’t point us to?

    The only such accusations against the New Times I’ve seen have come from Andy Thomas and Joe Arpaio. Neither is all that surprising given that the paper has done an excellent job exposing their corruption, abuse of office, and general awfulness.

  9. #9 |  Free Courtney Bisbee | 

    James D., This petition started by the father and older brother (prosecution’s star witness) attests to scam of his mother and brother to due the school and Courtney. Over 37,000 signatures. Read the PCR in the Maricopa County Superior Court, the Petition for Reviews in the Arizona Court of Appeals and the Petition for Writ of Habeas in the U.S. District Court of Arizona.

    Courtney Bisbee’s Petition | Help Free an Innocent Woman | Change.org

    http://www.change.org/petitions/help-free-an-innocent-woman

  10. #10 |  Free Courtney Bisbee | 

    James D., Read this petition started by the father and older brother (prosecution’s star witness) which attests to the scam of his mother and brother to sue the school and Courtney for $$’s. Over 37,000 signatures. Also read the PCR in the Maricopa County Superior Court, the Petition for Reviews in the Arizona Court of Appeals and the Petition for Writ of Habeas in the U.S. District Court of Arizona which the judges have “rubber-stamped” through the courts without the new evidence – proof of innocence and the exculpatory evidence ever being heard in an Arizona Court.

    Why hasn’t the new evidence been heard in an Arizona court? If this can happen to Courtney, it can happen to anyone. So what does this say about Arizona’s justice system?

    Courtney Bisbee’s Petition | Help Free an Innocent Woman | Change.org

    http://www.change.org/petitions/help-free-an-innocent-woman

  11. #11 |  liberranter | 

    The “law” and “justice” systems of Maricona County, Arizona make those of the LMJC in Georgia look like exemplars of truth, justice, and fairness.

  12. #12 |  hskiprob | 

    A most interesting case of fraud and corruption. Not unusual within just about every Circuit and District Court system in America. The judicial system appears to me to be a protection and conficatory racket by the oligarchs. An Attorney must show the oligarchs their willingness to play the corruption game, but stay in line or they will be scapgoated. A very fine balancing act for the ambitious. If you look at the last 2,000 years it appears to be the same scam perpitrated througout history. He who controls the judiciary, controls the business activity within the society and as we all know it always about the money.

    It has become my opinion that it is the judicary which provides the legislators the ability to usurp individual rights and that political methods to rectify this problem have historically been shown to be futile.

    My only suggestion is for the honest Citizens to take back control of the Grand Juries and it is my understanding that Citizens do have a right to seek an indictment against a corrupt Judge, Proscecutor or other Citizen. I have only heard of Citzens doing this but I think it would be a crucial step to rectifiying the corruption in the Judicial system.

  13. #13 |  Robbie | 

    Regarding the ending paragraph:

    “Unfortunately, prosecutors and judges tend to take convictions as hard-and-fast and in their minds, innocence cannot be a defense, since all accused people MUST be guilty, otherwise they would not have been accused in the first place.”

    If this is true, doesn’t this demonstrate bias on the part of prosecutors and judges, and therefore, make it impossible for a truly innocent person to receive a fair trial and/or review in the court system?

    Or is it just more “convenient” for the prosecutors and judges to ignore there are innocent persons accused and/or in our prisons in order to: prevent exposing errors of the justice system, or losing one of their wins, and consequently, neglecting the real truth, and justice?

  14. #14 |  Bill Wells | 

    “It has become my opinion that it is the judicary which provides the legislators the ability to usurp individual rights”

    Right from the start, the Supreme Court has ruled that government powers are to be given their widest possible interpretation but that individual rights are to be carefully limited.

    Moreover, the Supreme Court has ruled that the government’s interest in keeping someone convicted outweighs even absolute proof of that someone’s innocence, even if the sentence is death.

    “it is my understanding that Citizens do have a right to seek an indictment against a corrupt Judge, Proscecutor or other Citizen.”

    Your understanding is incorrect. In most (possibly all, now) jurisdictions, citizens may not seek indictments; only the government may do so.

    These are among the reasons that “American justice” is an oxymoron.

  15. #15 |  Artemus | 

    By Andrew Thomas’ own words, he sought over 200,000 felony convictions in 1 county in Arizona during what amounts to 1 term in public office. He raised the incarceration in Arizona prisons a whooping 30%. He was on ABC 20/20 for coercing a 15-year-old boy to plead guilty as a sex offender for the crime of showing a Playboy magazine to 2 friends.

    Thomas has no political resume. He was elected in a fluke election where a sitting prosecutor retired and no credible candidates ran for office. He needed to build a resume before the next election. He needed crime, lots of crime. He needed there to be no trials because trials are public and cost money. He used Minimum Mandatory Sentencing–which determined Courtney’s sentence–as a weapon against local residents to manufacture (aka: fake) a career as a crime fighter for justice. It was smart. It would have worked had he not believed his own fakery and gone after a handful of the rich and powerful in the county to seal his success story to the public.

    Courtney lost in a biased bench trial and she is now the victim of a judicial coverup. Courtney did not plead guilty, she had been given the light sentence that the 98% of people charged with MMS crimes plead guilty to so as to receive probation, or lowered sentences. In am MMS case, the judge is shackled to become a courtroom prop. It works like a charm for prosecutors and effectively turns them into judge and jury. It builds their careers for them.

    Courtney had the unhappy belief in justice that many of the misinformed among us still have. She pled non-guilty because she is not guilty. She didn’t realize, and large and shrinking group of people still don’t realize, that crime has been redefined to fit a business model and that people are now income-producing, career-building assets.

    MMS was born a few years after the for-profit prison industry got its start in Tennessee. MMS needs “heads on beds”. MMS has created a country where 1 in 31 adults are under penal control, where crime “supposedly” rose at a rate 10 times greater than the country’s population grew after 1980, and where 600,000 citizens (a minority of felons created by MMS) are annually released back into society. These people are shunned by employers, live off government assistance, and many ultimately return to drug-use and re-incarceration. Recidivism, as it is called, has more than doubled since 1980.

    This is all good news for political hopefuls building a political resume through the prosecutor’s seat, for investors, and for for-profit prison executives. The private prison industry has done exceedingly well during the same period. Several are traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The larges of these companies are rumored to be searching for a home-state to center their operations in as they routinely transfer prisoners between states like cattle to avoid in-state resident incarceration costs (such as medical care and mental health treatment) and keep “heads on beds” at a rate above 90 percent for the quarterly SEC reporting to investors.

    Arizona has become one of several focal points of the for-profit home-state initiative. In 2010, Arizona sold all of its prisons to the for-profit industry to raise operating revenue for the state’s General Fund. They funded 15 percent of their operating budget in 2011 with those funds. Since Arizona’s economy today depends heavily upon construction revenue, prison building is a particularly attractive venture.

    Arizona’s economy past depended heavily on tourist revenue and sales tax revenue. However, Andrew Thomas’ closed-door activities and Joe Arpaio’s very publicity seeking career has caused a drop in income tax and sales tax revenue by 50 percent in the past decade, despite a growth in population from California. A number that is now in decline, further eroding the state’s ability to find money to fund its operations.

    Arizona is on target to become America’s first prison state, whose economy and jobs are heavily tied to the incarceration of America’s citizens. While Arizona if full of loving peace-loving people, its reputation has disintegrated into one of a “State of hate.” To further cement their future, Arizona’s governor recently replace 80 percent of the Board of Clemency because the existing board was sending too many requests for Clemency to her desk.

    None of this is conjecture. All of it can be found in the Internet, or in a Library. It is reported on government websites such as the Arizona State Government, Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau, and more. Go have a look.

    Cheers.

  16. #16 |  hskiprob | 

    @Bill Wells – Agreed on everything in the first several paragraphs. Go figure, a Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights with the intent of protecting individual rights, from the very start, the foundation of our nation, usurped by the judiciary. They are a den of thieves that protects one another from procecution.

    Do you have a specific law which prohibits Citizens from seeking indictments for judicial corruption because that is not what I’ve been hearing lately and I met somebody that did this years ago.

    If there is laws against this now, then this is obviously a bad law that should be further explored. All those petitioners showing up at one of the Grand Juries in the area would surely get the attention of the Jurors.

    This is in my opinion the most important issue that I can see and Thomas Jefferson even warned us of this Constitutional flaw. The Citizens ability to have recourse against Judiciary tyranny is not only relevant to our country but it is the scurge of mankind around the world.

  17. #17 |  Bill Wells | 

    #14: “Do you have a specific law which prohibits Citizens from seeking indictments for judicial corruption because that is not what I’ve been hearing lately and I met somebody that did this years ago.”

    America does not have a monolithic legal system. There is the federal legal system, 50 state legal systems, legal systems for DC and other territories, and legal systems for parts of these jurisdictions. Each of these legal systems could, in theory, have different rules as to who may initiate a prosecution. So, there is no one relevant statute.

    Anyway, I know for certain that, in the federal system, only a prosecutor may seek an indictment. I’m fairly sure (but a real lawyer might say otherwise :)) that this is now true in all states.

  18. #18 |  carol geissler | 

    I am a mother and grandmother. I have no knowledge of political purpose in determining guilt or innocense but please in the name of humanity let this poor girl return to her family. The contrived conviction defies moral standards for any American today. Is it still those who have the money have the power? The evidence clearly indicates she did nothing wrong and others have motives for false accusation. If the persons involved in the situation have admitted to telling falsehoods then why is the “political body” holding an innocent victim hostage to their agenda. Let her go!

  19. #19 |  Free Courtney Bisbee | 

    Artemus hit it out of the ball park! No one has described Arizona better and how innocent, well meaning people like Courtney and her daughter and family would have their lives shredded in the “shredding machine” they have created for the people. If you think ALL are not at risk, think again. Time to call the Governor to STOP the signing of the 2,000 private prison beds on August 31st! It is also time to end this sham and free Courtney Bisbee and let their family return to the normal and productive life they had before this travesty of justice and due process took place in Scottsdale, Arizona.

  20. #20 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @17 – No, you can still bring private prosecutions in Virginia.

  21. #21 |  James D | 

    Wow, really got your panties in a wad … you all, including the venerable Balko, COMPLETELY missed the point.

    I’ve linked stories (full of FACTS by the way) in the past, and have been assaulted immediately because “that’s a right wing site/paper”.

    You all frankly quite easily proved my point.

    Just pointing out that for people who claim to not lean to one side over the other, you all seem to be just fine with sourcing mostly from just one side. I never even commented on THIS specific story.

    But maybe scruples don’t matter as much since being under Queen Huffington …. ?

  22. #22 |  liberranter | 

    @#19:

    Time to call the Governor to STOP the signing of the 2,000 private prison beds on August 31st!

    I’m sure you’re aware of what a waste of time and effort that would be. Our walking blonde joke of a governor couldn’t care less about what any of us have to say unless it’s to make a campaign contribution.

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