The Arizona Court of Appeals has issued a landmark opinion in the case of Jennifer Foor v. Hon. Richard Smith, which requires that all exculpatory and impeachment information must be disclosed by the city to the defendant in civil cases filed in a city court.
Never before has any Arizona court issued such a ruling. Prior to this decision, that disclosure requirement was enforced solely in criminal cases. On appeal, the defendant, Jennifer Foor, was represented by Scottsdale attorney Charles R. Johnson. Phoenix was represented by Ean P. White of the Office of the Phoenix City Attorney.
Reached for comment, Johnson said, “A mutual acquaintance asked me to represent Jennifer on appeal. I agreed to do so pro bono because it appeared to me that she had not been treated fairly by the City. When I learned that the City does not disclose any information whatsoever to a defendant in a civil case, even information helpful to the defense which the City knows about, such as the City’s police officer witness having been labeled a liar by her police department, I thought that was wrong. A violation of constitutional rights to due process. In its decision, the Court of Appeals agrees with me. That is now the law of Arizona, for the first time. Although the forfeiture of my client’s cats was affirmed because the testimony by other witnesses made the liar’s testimony immaterial, she has won a great legal victory for all future defendants in city court civil cases.”
The Court opinion highlights:
” ¶1 Jennifer Foor appeals the superior court’s order denying special action relief from an order of the Phoenix Municipal Court forfeiting Foor’s cats to the City of Phoenix (the “City”). Foor argues undisclosed impeachment material pertaining to the Phoenix Police officer involved in her case amounts to a Brady violation by the City and requests the forfeiture of her cats be vacated. See Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963). For the following reasons, we hold that Brady and Giglio require disclosure of material information under these circumstances, but affirm the superior court’s denial of relief on other grounds. See Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150, 153–54 (1972).”
” ¶10 In criminal proceedings, Giglio and Brady require the disclosure of impeachment or exculpatory evidence potentially useful to the defense. Giglio, 405 U.S. at 153–54; Brady, 373 U.S. at 87. As an issue of first impression, Foor seeks to extend Brady’s disclosure requirements to “quasi-criminal” civil forfeiture actions. Foor points to no authority for the extension of these disclosure requirements, but instead argues Brady and Giglio must be extended as a matter of due process.”
“ ¶12 The United States Supreme Court has long held that prosecutors in criminal cases cannot deliberately or inadvertently suppress evidence favorable to the accused in a criminal trial. See Brady, 373 U.S. at 87; see also Mooney v. Hologan, 294 U.S. 103, 112 (1935). This has given rise to a prosecutorial duty to disclose exculpatory and impeachment evidence in criminal cases. Giglio, 405 U.S. at 153–54. These requirements arise from the due process clause and are designed to ensure criminal trials are fair. Weatherford v. Bursey, 429 U.S. 545, 559 (1977).”
” ¶13 Brady has rarely been extended beyond criminal cases, and never by this Court. The Arizona Supreme Court has previously held that criminal defendants are entitled to some discovery, even when otherwise denied by local rules. See State ex rel. Purcell v. City Court, 112 Ariz. 517, 518 (1975) (holding that a criminal defendant in municipal court is entitled to discovery as a matter of fairness when no other opportunity for discovery exists). As with criminal cases at the time of Purcell, the Phoenix Municipal Court allows no pretrial discovery in civil cases, including forfeiture cases. City Ct. Local Prac. and Proc. Rules, Phoenix, 2.10. Thus, absent mandatory disclosure, private investigation, or disclosure incident to a parallel proceeding, a defendant in a forfeiture action before the Phoenix Municipal Court has no method of obtaining exculpatory or impeachment information known to the City.”
” ¶14 Phoenix and the cities of Tucson and Yuma . . . explicitly prohibit pretrial discovery in civil cases before their municipal courts. See City Ct. Local Prac. & Proc. Rules, Tucson, 11; Mun. Ct. Local Prac. and Proc. Rules, Yuma, 2.11.”
“ ¶15 The precise question we confront is . . . whether Brady and Giglio should apply to the rare case where a defendant is deprived of the usual disclosure and discovery rights available in similar cases. We are unaware of any case in Arizona or the Ninth Circuit examining the minimum disclosures necessary for the State to deprive a defendant of his property rights.”
“¶18 . . . Foor had no means to discover any evidence held by the City, denying her the process necessary to mount a meaningful defense. Under these circumstances, from a Brady perspective, the City’s civil action is virtually indistinguishable from a criminal action. Thus, Brady and Giglio apply in civil forfeiture actions absent a mechanism for the defendant to discover, at a minimum, non-privileged exculpatory and impeachment information in the government’s possession.”
“¶23 Foor raises numerous additional minor arguments in an effort to overturn the forfeiture of her cats, all of which are unavailing. First, Foor argues that the City’s procedure for animal forfeiture is unconstitutional because it does not provide the same protections as in juvenile dependency proceedings. Animals are not children; this argument is therefore meritless.”