N4T Investigators: Justice of the Peace under investigation - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Justice of the Peace under investigation

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Phoenix - Pima County Justice of the Peace Paula Aboud had to take the witness stand herself.

The 67-year old Tucson native was one of six witnesses who testified during a five-hour disciplinary hearing conducted by the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct, an independent state agency. Aboud has been under a judicial ethics investigation for months. She was caught last Jan.12 taking a copy of the answer key to a test for new judges. Aboud admitted taking it, but called it  "a prank." The incident occurred when her mentor, Phoenix Municipal Court Judge James Sampanes, left the room. The answer key was in papers that Sampanes left at the table he shared with Aboud.   

Aboud testified, "I reached way over, like this kind of a gesture, and reached over to grab the papers, stuck them behind the papers that I had in my hand, and I stood there waiting for Judge Sampanes to come back. And I was thinking, 'This is a joke that I do.' We do within my family, we've done for 50, 60 years. You know, it's 'play a trick on somebody. Hide their stuff.' So I'm looking at the papers right in front of me and thinking, 'Am I going to wait a split second or am I going to wait one second once he gets back to, you know, ta-da." 

Judge Sampanes said that while he was in a nearby hallway, he saw Aboud take the test. He didn't think it was funny in the least, and immediately confronted Aboud. 

Sampanes testified, "I said, 'What are you doing?' She didn't have any response whatsoever. Looked shocked. Still kept all the paperwork right there, close to her. And I said, 'I know you have the test.' She didn't...still no response at all. So I reached down and grabbed the test and pulled it out." 

Another witness testified that weeks earlier, Judge Aboud had expressed concern about passing the test. She eventually did so, scoring an 85. 

If Aboud is found guilty by the hearing officer, Judge Lawrence Winthrop, he could remove her from her $103,000 a year job, or she could be publicly reprimanded, sanctioned by censure, or suspended without pay. Aboud was elected last November after working as a state senator and school teacher. Under questioning from her attorney Tom Higgins, Aboud testified it was never her intention to keep the answer key.

Higgins asked her, "How much time do you think elapsed before he took those papers out of your possession or you handed them back to him?" She replied, "Well that part was about two seconds." Regarding what she felt was Sampanes' angry tone, Higgins asked her, "Did you feel taken aback by that?" Aboud answered, "Oh completely. Stunned, shocked." Higgins asked her, "Were you trying to steal the test, Judge Aboud?" She replied, "No." Higgins then asked, "It never crossed your mind?" "No," Judge Aboud answered. 

However, April Elliott, the Disciplinary Counsel for the Commission on Judicial Conduct, called for Aboud's removal from the bench.

Elliott said in her closing argument, "She thought it would be funny to take it, and this isn't dignified conduct. It's a huge lapse in judgment and that's a main quality or skill that judges are supposed to possess, is judgment. And that undermines the public perception of a judicial officer with integrity and competence."

Near the end of her testimony, Aboud apologized. "It was just a bad idea to play that joke. It's just created a scene, which I am...I need to apologize for. I need to apologize to everybody for," she said. 

The hearing  officer set no date for when he will announce his decision on any discipline, but said he prefers to rule on these cases as soon as possible. Judge Aboud declined an on-camera interview but she and her lawyer Tom Higgins said she would do an interview with us when the decision comes down.

When Aboud was asked during the hearing what she thinks an appropriate punishment would be, she said after what she's been through, she would like to teach new judges a course in ethics. 

If you have any story you would like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444. 

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