***Copied From The Ahwatukee Foothills News***
Judge plans Sanctions in Murder Trial News Leak
Murder Trial Sanctions
by Guinda Reeves
A trial date of Sept 29 has been set for Ahwatukee Foothills resident James Cornel Harrod, 43, charged with first-degree murder and burglary in the 1988 death of prominant Phoenix socialite Jeanne Gunter Tovrea.
Presiding Judge Ronald S. Reinstein of Maricopa County Superior Court's criminal division, set the date at a hearing on May 8, and also scheduled a status conference for July 14. He also addressed a side issue that has plagued the case for more than two weeks.
At issue is the release of discovery materials, some of them covered by a protective order issued Oct 30, 1995, to reporter Paul Rubin of New Times, and to June Barney, Harrod's sister. Among the materials wee recordings of interviews; a grand jury transcript; a Phoenix search warrant for Harrod's home; and a California search warrant for the home of the victim's stepson, Edward A. Tovrea Jr.
"Lawyers just don't toss around grand jury transcripts," said Reinstein. "I intend to impose sanctions."
The judge is expected to decide as early as next week what sanctions to impose on defense attorney Michael Bernays and on Peter Claussen of the public defender's office, who helped represent Harrod before Bernays was hired by Harrod's family.
However, the judge said he's unsure about granting any reimbursement of attorney's fees to various participants involved in the prosecution side, as they have requested.
The prosecutors, Paul Ahler and Bill Culbertson, have asked the judge to levy fines against the defense attorneys for failure to uphold the 1995 protective order.
Ignoring the protective order is a serious violation, Ahler argued. The people involved in Jeanne Tovrea's murder "are obviously very dangerous," said the prosecutor.
The sanctions are entirely at the judge's discretion, according to Bruce Feder, an attorney representing Bernays.
Barney previously testified she had been assisting the defense attorneys-Bernays and his law partner, Tonya McMath, of Mesa-with transcription and organization of materials in her brother's case as part of an arrangement to minimize defense costs.
Reinstein said during the hearing on May 8 that there's "too much lawyering going on," a reference to attorneys representing attorneys at that hearing and the previous one on April 29, in which attorneys outnumbered spectators in the crowded courtroom.
He said all he needed was for Bernays and two members of the county public defender's office- Claussen and John Brisson-"to come up and tell the court what happened," and how the materials under the protective order got turned over to Barney and Rubin.
"These hearings have been a real waste of time," the judge said.
Reference to the three people who were the subjects of the 1995 protective order but whose identies became known to Rubin and Barney, Reinstein said. "The cat's ut of the bag on protective materials." Those three were identified in open court as Harrod's ex-wife, Anne Costello; her brother, Mark Costello; and her mother, Sue Streibel.
Reinstein on May 8 issued a new order of protection barring Barney or any member of her family from contacting Costello or her family, and ordered the return of all case materials in Barney's possession.
The judge also granted a prosecution motion to obtain a deposition from Rubin regarding statements made to him by Harrod. The nature of the statements wasn't revealed.
Documents allegedly in Rubin's or his newspaper's possession are still an issue to be addressed by the court, according to an attorney for New Times.
During the hearing on May 8, Reinstein found that "Brisson didn't violate any order of the court, and excused Brisson and his attorney from the courtroom.
Brisson had told the judge he didn't remember giving materials to Barney; and that his colleague, Claussen, "was the point man" for the Harrod case before Bernays took over as Harrod's defense counsel. Brisson said no one in the office gave out materials in the Harrod case without checking first with Claussen.
Bernays told the judge he didn't know there was a protective order in the Harrod case until prosecutor Paul Ahler mentioned it much later.
"I hope the court knows I would never knowingly violate any court orders," Bernays told Reinstein. "If I violated the protective order, I'm sorry."
"I had no notice from anyone that there was anything extraordinary (in the discovery materials). I've never seen a gag order of this sort in a murder case before."
Reinstein told Bernays he regularly issues such orders in his court.
Claussen said he didn't get the six tapes in question until April 5. "I don't believe I ever gave (Barney) any tapes," he told the judge.
While representing Harrod, Claussen said, "It was not something we desired" to have Rubin or any media "write about this case."
"I told Harrod not to talk to any press," he added.
The public defender said he had received more than 900 pages of materials by Oct 15 or 16, 1995, nearly two weeks before the protective order was issued.
"It stands to reason I would have eliminated the grand jury transcript," said Claussen, before giving that batch of materials to Barney.
Bernays said Barney helps his office with transcription and organization of case materials. Because of the extensive of materials in the case, he said, "We're still trying to categorize, to make some sense of it."
He admitted that Rubin came to his office "t, maybe three, times, about an hour each (time)," and was allowed to look at discovery materials, adding that he considered the reporter "as a source" because Rubin had been involved in the case before the defense attorney took the case.
"I don't believe he had access to grand jury transcripts (while in the law office)," said Bernays.
Feder, Bernay's attorney, told Reinstein the court "should apply the same kind of sanctions" against Maricopa County Attorney Richard V. Romley, and cited prior news releases from Romley's office about the Harrod case. He said Romley's news releases "violated the ethics clause."
"This has been much ado about nothing," said Feder.
"In death-penalty cases, such as Harrod's," said Feder, "sometimes defense attorneys get distracted with trying to save (their client's) life."
Bernays relationship with Rubin was "somewhat of a unique situation," said the attorney, because Rubin had already written about the case.
Feder pointed out that Barney's recollection of dates when she received materials is "vague," and that Claussen couldn't seem to remember specific dates either.
Meanwhile, Harrod remains in custody in the Maricopa County Jail. No bail has been set,
as is common in capital murder cases.
The Tovrea Homepage
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