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What the Devil won't tell you

In defense of Paula Aboud and maybe even 'cheating'

New justice of the peace faces sanctions over 'joke,' but should she?

Ask me if I'm a dump truck.

“Are you a dump truck?”


In honor of Mother's Day, that has long been my mom's favorite joke. Don't get it? No. Well, it goes like this: I can get you to ask a ridiculous question with a straight face and you'll do it.

Still don't get it?

Welcome to my childhood but that's neither here nor there. What is here and there is that if I were a judge and told another judge that joke, I could apparently be removed from office.

One of the two counts against Justice of the Peace Paula Aboud is that she told a joke that didn't land. The former state lawmaker stepped in it needlessly by snaking an answer key to a test during new-judge orientation in January and then saying she was trying to “play a joke” on her court-sponsored mentor who was leading a study session.

Now, full disclosure: Aboud was my maternal figure in Democratic politics. Her paternal equivalent was former county chair Jeff Rogers. I could not have asked for more support or leeway in my job than I got from Rogers. Aboud was my main sponsor on all manners having to do with Phoenix and I have enormous respect for her, personally. I also owe her $20. So there's that.

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So naturally, last year, Rogers and Aboud ran against each other for – of all things – a Pima County justice of the peace slot. Both of them have been known to fight mean. Forces tried to enlist me to choose sides in this race. I just hid under a pillow. Why are mom and dad fighting?

Still, I started writing this column ready to take her to task just to prove that's the kind of columnist I am. The more I closely I read the Aboud — especially one of the charges against her — that maybe this case has gone way too far.

Now I want to play the advocate of the Great Deceiver who won't tell you stuff. Everyone's piling on. So why not stand up for someone I know and respect?

The counts

April Elliott, disciplinary counsel for the Arizona Commission of Judicial Conduct crafted the second of two charges against Aboud:

A judge shall be patient, dignified and courteous to jurors, witnesses, lawyers, court staff, court officials and others with whom the judge deals with in an official capacity.

Taking test questions and the answer key at a judicial training, in jest, is not dignified conduct for a judicial officer.

Ease off the gas there, April. Not dignified? The construction of the charge argues the joke itself is not dignified. That's curious. Tell me a dignified joke. They don't exist. Jokes are, by their very nature, undignified. They're zany. They're wacky. They're tasteless. Maybe joking at all about stealing the answer key undermines the confidence in the judge's integrity. That's not the charge. The charge is that it's not dignified.

There's only one way to judge a joke and that's if it's funny.

And to be sure, Aboud's joke (giving her an enormous benefit of the doubt that it was a joke) is not funny. Mom's dump truck joke is vaguely a joke looking through my family's unique comic lens. Where's the punchline to Aboud's joke? It's like “I got a good one. So the other day a cop stopped me for jaywalking So I reached for his gun. Then he shot me! Ahahahahah. Wait. I didn't tell it right.”

Now what if Aboud had managed to construct a joke from swiping the answer key in a way that left the room peeing its collective pants. Would Elliott still be recommending that Aboud be “censured, suspended or removed from office?”

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Here's what went down on an evening in January as Aboud joined other new judges in a study session for a test the next day.

Judge James Sampanes, the mentor running the new judge orientation, called a break in a study session the night before an exam was to be given to Aboud and other new judges. During that break, Aboud grabbed the fuschia-colored answer sheet and stuck it in a stack of her papers. Sampanes saw this move and confronted her, and took it back.

"I probably wasn't even going to read it," the charges said Aboud told the judge.

Aboud later told investigators that she was trying to "play a joke" on Sampanes, although she didn't tell him that.

Aboud's outlook dimmed significantly as she took on her new job. The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct got involved to see if the snaking of the answer constituted an actionable offense.

Last week, Elliott returned with a recommendation that Aboud be punished.

Respondent's conduct, as described in Paragraphs 5-14, violated rule 1.1 of the code, which states. "A Judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes confidence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and avoid the appearance of impropriety."

Yeah, if Elliott can prove Aboud tried to cheat on the test in an effort to get ahead, then Aboud undermined her integrity and propriety. I imagine the issue is aggravated by the fact that Aboud didn't have to pass the test to sit on the court. She's elected and there's no test that can limit the powers of an elected official. Cheating on such a test would be monumentally stupid.

If this were a real test ...

But can't it work the other way? I mean, Aboud grabbing the answer key doesn't give her a leg up on competition. If she scores a 100 on the test or a 0 on the test, she's still going to be hearing cases. A 50 doesn't mean she loses her parking space. Her salary is determined by the Arizona Revised Statutes and can not be reduced for failing to pass a test. It's all covered by Article 6 of the state Constitution.

The test isn't a test like we know tests. This isn't a bar exam. It's not a driver's test. If she scored 70 percent or higher she could take her seat on the court. If she scored lower than 70 percent, she could take her seat on the court but would have to retake the test until she got above 70 percent. But she'd hearing cases the whole time.

Heather Murphy, spokeswoman for the Arizona Supreme Court, said she did not know of any case in which a judge has been kicked off the court for not passing the test. Aboud is not a lawyer but I guarantee you she's not the dumbest non-lawyer to be elected justice of the peace.

The test in question is just a teaching tool to assess a justice of the peace's knowledge to help fill in the gaps. So why shouldn't she have the information on the answer key? I know, I know. My question challenges everything we know about schooling and testing. Testing is largely considered a cleaver to separate the fat from the meat and confer status on those who pass. Those who fail, well they must endure the consequences. But that's not the case here. In this case every test taker is a winner because everyone is – literally – a winner. They all won elections.

If the test is meant to teach and not to prohibit then why is Sampanes calling down the gods' vengeance on Aboud's head? Did it really have to go this far?

The state isn't empowered to proctor the kind of exam we are all used to taking, so what does it matter if Aboud has the answers? And that's where the argument leads us. The state has no business testing elected officials in the first place.

On Lincoln and Clausewitz

Oh, there are times I wish it did.

We don't force the state Legislature to take a test about the social or economic policy even though they are in a position to determine the economic and social policy that affect all 7 million Arizonans. Boy, would I love to test state lawmakers but that's not my call.

I've seen many a presidential debate and no candidate for Leader of the Free World has been asked compare and contrast military theorists Carl Von Clausewitz and H.H. Liddell Hart. We still give the candidate with 270 electoral votes the keys to the most bodacious military in the history of the world regardless of their understanding of vertical envelopment.

We don't require a law degree to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Great Darrow's Ghost! Joe Arpaio said he never heard of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment (that's the passage of the U.S. Constitution that grants federal civil liberties on those charged with state crimes).

Where did Lincoln go to law school? He didn't.

So long as Aboud is applying the law to the best of her ability with each case in front of her, then why should James Sampanes or anyone else be giving her tests to stop her?

Now, someone I respect pointed out that a single judge holds a lot of power over the person in their court. This is true.

If the founders of the state meant for only lawyers to serve as justices of the peace, they could have required it. If the citizens of this state had decided to change the Constitution to make such a rule, they had 105 years to do it. They haven't. Perhaps there's a wisdom to impose some non-lawyerly wisdom on the judicial process. No? The argument to the contrary isn't with me. It's with the founders of the state Constitution.

Other than some sort of post-agrarian pedagogical norm and Calvinistic need for judgment, there's no reason for this test. Just help teach the elected legal officers learn what they need to know to do their jobs and leave it at that. It's the voter's decision. Respect it until voters decide to change their minds.

Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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have your say   

Latest comments on this storyRead all 4 »

May 16, 2017, 1:19 pm
-0 +2

I am now appearing before Judge Aboud on a criminal charge of “electronic harassment,” in which the charges are based upon an article I wrote and published on Facebook critical of Pima County Judge Sara Simmons.

“What?” you say, “Here in America you can be prosecuted criminally for expressing your opinion about a public official?” 


There is much documented evidence in the court record to support what I just said. There is even an appeal now proceeding in the Arizona Appellate Court Division 2 which asks the Court to declare that comments made on Facebook political blogs should be classified as “Political Speech” protected by the First Amendment!

Say, Dylan Smith and Blake Morlock; as reporters you should look into this. Are people REALLY being prosecuted criminally for criticizing public officials?

Respond to this and I will send you the documented evidence.

Better yet: On Friday May 19, 2017 at 11:30 am I am appearing in Judge Aboud’s court and filing a Motion to Dismiss on the basis of HER argument:

“I was Just Kidding!”

May 16, 2017, 11:55 am
-1 +2

We don’t unmask our pseudonymous commenters without good reason, but we’d do so if a subject of a news report or opinion column were pretending to be someone else in the comments on it, and we knew about it. That’s not the case here.

I’m much more skeptical of this “prank” claim than Blake is, but it bears repeating that this isn’t a criminal case, and there would be only a little benefit to “cheating” on a test that doesn’t require a passing grade.

The assessment of the (at least one) direct witness to the incident would be informative, but that new JP hasn’t publicly discussed this yet.

May 16, 2017, 11:14 am
-2 +1

You’ve GOT to be kidding, right?

Stealing to Cheat, and then LYING ABOUT IT?

I would LOVE to hear what happens when ANY common person advances this defense in criminal court:

“I was ONLY joking!” I wasn’t going to KEEP the money!”

“Friar Tuck” (who may be Aboud herself, we don’t know) and Blake Morelock are hopelessly biased, and based on their personal relationship with Aboud, willing to accept a nonsensical defense that No unbiased Judge in history has EVER accepted.

Look how Barbara Grijalva was raked over the coals!

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