Monday , Jan. 29 - Newton's reply to the recusal demand was in a minute entry of Jan. 22. He said that he had reviewed the state's request and, while it was "certainly tempting to simply agree with the State and recuse himself from this divisive, conflict ridden case," he would not do so. He gave the following reasons. First, a number of judges, including all those from Navajo County, were already recused from the case. Second, all the judges who had participated in the settlement and sentencing hearings had been criticized by both sides for either being too harsh or too lenient. Finding another judge would take time and simply drag matters out further. Newton has been emphasizing the need to bring closure to this case.
On the specifics of Ruechel's demand, Newton said that the request from Steve Garnett, Sr., was not a proper pleading paper, but that the court took "the request seriously and immediately notified the state of its intent to do so." There was then a more formal request from the defendant's lawyer. Newton reminded Ruechel that he had also accepted informal requests from the victims' side involving restitution.
Newton said that the notices were on a fast timeline because of the opening date of spring semester at Northland Pioneer College on Jan. 16. The court granted the state's request for an extension, and then granted the further request for a hearing, set for Jan 25. The court allowed the use of fax transmission to keep everyone informed. "For all these reasons," Newton said in his statement, "the Court had treated each of the parties with respect, fairness and dignity and will continue to do so. No recusal is needed. The State's request for Recusal of Judge is denied."
The Jan. 25 hearing was vacated and never held. Prosecutor Ruechel stated that it could not be held until the matter of the demand for Newton's removal was settled. More puzzling was the failure to hold the settlement hearing on Jan. 24, scheduled in the Coconino County Division III court of Judge Coker. This hearing was to either hear a settlement agreement or to set a trail date for the last of the hazing case defendants, Shane Garnett. The hearing was "vacated" by mutual agreement of the attorneys. The prosecutor's office said that the hearing was cancelled because of the conflict with Judge Newton and because of a civil case filed in December. There is no date set yet for the resumption of this plea agreement hearing.
Recusal hearing date scheduled
The next step in the process appears to be a hearing for the recusal for cause and removal of Judge Newton. This is currently scheduled for Feb. 7th in the Navajo County Superior Court. A judge has been called back from retirement to hear the two sides, according to court staff. His full name was not available at press time. After this opinion is issued, which may take some time, dates for the hearings previously scheduled on Jan. 24 and Jan. 25 will be reset.
On Judge Newton's order the two defendants released for enrollment in college are at home, under probation, continuing to attend classes and participating in their required community service.
According to staff at the Navajo County Court on Friday, Jan. 26 three other defendants were still in jail and three had been released, all early, and were completing their probation from home.
[the remainder of this article will appear in the 1/31 edition of the Winslow Mail. The Ed.]
Wednesday, Jan. 24 - The conference on the plea agreement for the last defendant in the hazing cases, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in Division III of the Coconino County Superior Court was cancelled. The legal term is "vacated." This was by mutual agreement between the Navajo County Attorney's Office and the attorney for the defense. This was because another motion, to remove trial Judge Fred Newton who is also in the Coconino County Superior Court, preceded the plea agreement conference.
On Tuesday the Navajo County Attorney's Office submitted a "notice of change of judge for cause," and it could be two weeks or more before an outside judge is found to hear the motion. The motion was submitted because the Navajo County Attorney's Office said that Judge Newton has showed prejudice and bias in his recent handling of the jail terms of those sentenced in the Winslow hazing cases.
In the normal process this motion for a change of judge goes to Presiding Judge Gloria Kindig in Navajo County, and she seeks and assigns the judge who hears the motion. However, all the Navajo County judges are removed from the hazing cases due to conflicts, including the newest elected judge, Dale Neilson, who served as an attorney for the defense of one of the boys now in jail on charges rising from these cases. It was not clear on Wednesday afternoon to staff persons in either Judge Coker's office in Coconino County or the office of the Navajo County Attorney who would be making the decisions on this motion.
One decision already made, however, is that the hearing scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 25 in Holbrook is also cancelled for the time being. Judge Newton did not overturn his order that the two oldest defendants be released to return home and to enter second semester classes at NPC.
Hopefully there will be more information available on the proceedings before the end of the week. If so, it will be inserted ahead of this bulletin.