Willcox AZ Jan 20 2012 Robert L. Stewart, 52, of Willcox, was suspended and subsequently resigned from his elected, but unpaid office as constable of Justice Court Precinct 4 after he pleaded guilty to and was sentenced for a class 4 felony in Cochise County Superior Court on Dec. 12.
Superior Court Presiding Judge Wallace R. Hoggatt wrote a letter to Stewart Dec. 13, which stated:
“Dec. 12, 2011, you were sentenced for a class 4 felony to which you had earlier pleaded guilty. Your crime was that you attempted to commit aggravated assault upon Bruce C. Shane by using a firearm to place him in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury.”
“As a consequence of your conviction, you were placed on two years’ supervised probation by the Honorable John F. Kelliher, Jr., Judge of the Superior Court in Cochise County, Division Two. The conviction resulted from your acts of May 17, 2010, when you encountered Mr. Shane while attempting to serve process on Norman Harbolt, Jr.”
Stewart said Thursday, “I feel that this should never have gone to court. I felt threatened at the time it happened.”
“I took a plea because I didn’t want to fight it due to personal reasons. In my situation, I didn’t have a choice. I took the lesser of two evils,” he said. “Even the Constable’s Association didn’t understand how it got this far.”
Stewart said he had “no problem with the people I dealt with in court or the judges – they were very nice.”
But, as presiding judge with authority over constables in Cochise County, Hoggatt “had to do what he did. He accepted my plea and that was the end of it.”
Hoggatt said in his letter, “I believe that the only appropriate discipline to impose is one that removes you from office immediately – and probably for the remainder of your term, depending on any response you might make within the time allowed.”
Hoggatt’s reasons were as follows:
1. “Your crime shows that you cannot be trusted to represent the judicial branch of government in Cochise County. Your crime was serious not merely because it was an armed class 4 felony, but because you committed the crime while you purported to act as an officer of the judicial branch.
2. Your felony conviction means that you are no longer a qualified voter. Under Article VII, � 15, of the Arizona Constitution, “Every person elected or appointed to any elective office of trust or profit under the authority of the State, or any political division or any municipality thereof, shall be a qualified elector of the political division or municipality in which such person shall be elected. As of yesterday, you are not a qualified elector of Precinct 4 – or anywhere else in the State of Arizona.
3. Your conditions of probation state that you cannot associate with anyone you know to have a criminal record without first obtaining written approval of the probation department. A constable is likely to encounter persons with known criminal records. As a practical matter, this provision would prevent you from discharging at least some of the duties of the office.”
Hoggatt was set to review the suspension to determine if it would be permanent on Jan. 5, considering “any response you may wish to present to me,” by Jan. 4.
However, instead of a response, Stewart sent a letter of resignation to the Cochise County Board of Supervisors, dated Dec. 19. It was received and later approved by the Supervisors at their Jan. 9 meeting.
Stewart said he’d like to have continued as constable even though he was paid only $1 per year, and eventually he may have been paid.
He said the Legislature has passed a law that will make the position paid based on the amount of papers served, with a minimum salary. That is supposed to go into effect after the next election, he said.
But, Stewart said that even after his probation is over, “I wouldn’t do anything for this county anymore,” as he is distressed by the way the Sheriff’s Office handled the situation.
“Some people in law enforcement don’t believe that position (constable) should exist. They feel they are the only one’s who should do it. We have mandatory training – we are trained to do the job,” he said. “I have been constable for three years, and that’s the only confrontation I’ve had.”