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Attorney lashes out at media during hearing
Yuma attorney Wm. Michael Smith lashed out at reporters covering his client's arraignment in Yuma Justice Court Friday afternoon, saying “the media shouldn't have absolute access to the courtroom” when covering hearings.
Smith became visibly upset when his client, Jose Marquez, was called to come before the judge to be informed whether a criminal complaint had been filed against him, because reporters were sitting in the jury box and had their cameras set up there as well.
“(The media) wants to get up here so they can get a front view of the lawyers and defendant, and he has never before now been formally charged,” Smith said. “This is not right. It's not fair to the public. It's not fair to the people brought into the system. I truly believe this.”
Smith argued that the media was not associated with the court in any way and therefore should not be allowed in front of the bar, the wooden partition that divides the courtroom from the gallery where patrons sit.
Smith, who wants media to be placed in the back of the courtroom, even went as far as threatening Yuma Justice of the Peace Yolanda Torok that he would take the matter up with Presiding Superior Court Judge John Nelson if he had to.
“I'm getting real tired of coming in here, because that is not the way it is done in Superior Court,” Smith said. “For the record, I want this heard or I will take it up with Superior Court.”
In addition to where the reporters were located, Smith argued that he had not been given proper notice that media were going to be present for the hearing, saying it interfered with his client's right to due process.
“The media does not have control over due process, nor are they an exception to due process,” Smith said.
Torok, who was presiding over Friday's hearings, tried to explain to Smith that due to the nature of the time frame in which cases have to be heard in Justice Court, it can't follow the same procedures that are in place in Superior Court.
While she agreed that reporters should not be in the jury box, she said there is no other place for them to be in Justice Court because one side of the courtroom is always filled with inmates while the other side is filled with patrons and victims. She also stated that at this point in the proceedings, defendants don't typically have attorneys yet.
Marquez, along with Jose Ramirez, was arrested on Tuesday in connection with a single-vehicle accident at about 1 a.m. on Oct. 23, 2009, in the vicinity of Scottsdale Avenue and East 34th Place, in which 21-year-old Rudy Natal died.
Both Marquez and Ramirez were arraigned Friday in Yuma Justice Court before Torok. Both are currently out of custody under pretrial services. Smith and attorney Richard Edgar, who represents Ramirez, both waived the formal reading of the complaints against their clients and the formal advisement of their rights.
According to court records, Marquez, who was initially arrested on an allegation of second-degree murder, was charged with one felony count of hindering prosecution and one felony count of conspiracy to hinder prosecution.
“There is no evidence of second-degree murder. My client was a passenger in a car that was involved in an accident,” Smith said during Marquez's hearing. “And yet because some police officer, some sheriff's deputy, who sat up in the jury box and who is not a member of the bar or not an officer of the court, comes in and starts making allegations, without anything being reviewed by the county attorney's office, accusing my client of second-degree murder, when anybody in their right mind knows that's not possible. And then he has the media here, to come and make reports, and report it in the newspapers and put his picture all over the newspaper, and slander his name, and slander his character.”
A criminal complaint was also filed against Ramirez. Court records indicate he was charged with one count of second-degree murder, one count of criminal damage, one count of endangerment and one count of aggravated assault, all felonies.
Marquez and Ramirez's next court date was set for March 19 at 4 p.m. for preliminary hearings.
According to the Yuma County Sheriff's Office, Ramirez, Marquez and Natal were all traveling in a red 1987 Ford two-door passenger car when the driver, allegedly Ramirez, lost control and struck a brick wall. During the accident, Natal, who was a passenger, was ejected from the vehicle, landing on the collapsed brick wall where he was found dead.
While evidence at the scene indicated Natal was not driving the vehicle, Ramirez and Marquez continued to maintain throughout the investigation that he had been. Due to the time and location of the accident, there were no other witnesses.
New information about the accident was obtained Tuesday, prompting deputies to reinterview both. According to the sheriff's office, Ramirez allegedly admitted during an employment interview that he had been driving the car when it crashed nearly four years ago.
Ramirez also admitted that he and Marquez had consciously made the decision to continue the false statement placing the deceased Natal behind the wheel of the vehicle, the sheriff's office said. An interview with Marquez and a third person confirmed Ramirez's statements.
James Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.