The defense team for murder defendant Pamela Phillips will be limited to one-hour monthly meetings with her while she’s in a restoration-to-competency program at the jail, Pima County Superior Court Judge Richard Fields said at a hearing Thursday.
The limit on access to Phillips — charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in the November 1996 car-bombing death of Gary Triano, her former husband — came after Fields told Assistant Pima County Legal Defender Peter Herberg he has never seen such a “blatant and intentional” attempt by an attorney to interfere with the restoration process. Herberg’s behavior “borders on worse than unprofessional” and he has been considering removing Herberg and the legal defender’s office from the case, the judge said.
Phillips is accused of using portions of Triano's $2 million life insurance policy to pay Ronald Young to kill Triano.
The pair were indicted in October 2008. Young was convicted and is serving a life sentence.
In December, Fields declared Phillips mentally incompetent. He ordered her to go through a special program at the Pima County jail designed to help incompetent defendants understand the criminal justice system and stabilize any mental health conditions that might impede their ability to help their attorneys mount a defense.
Phillips has told at least one doctor she believes someone has been watching and listening to her for the past seven to eight years and that she believes she has had tracking devices placed in her neck and passport. She contends plugs inserted into her brain have allowed people to both track her and control her body.
After receiving a recent report on Phillips’ progress in the program, Deputy Pima County Attorneys William McCollum and Casey McGinley filed a motion asking Fields to set guidelines for Phillips’ restoration.
Although the contents of that report are confidential, the prosecutors expressed concern Phillips’ restoration may have been “misdirected by unreasonable allegations” made by Herberg, the defense attorney.
In the motion, the prosecutors wrote: “The state is not intending that this motion precipitate a hearing on whether any counsel has violated the rules. The hearing with regard to restoration should not be a disciplinary proceeding.”
Instead of hearing oral arguments on the prosecutors’ motion or Herberg’s response, Fields reprimanded Herberg and issued his edict.
In his written response, Herberg said guidelines might be needed, but for different reasons.
The defense attorney said he wanted to address the repeated violation of Phillips’ “rights to confidentiality, personal privacy, fundamental fairness, and due process of laws designed to protect her from the unfair abuse she has been made to endure by” prosecutors, investigators, the media and book author Kerrie Droban.
He suggested prosecutors and a forensic psychologist were given records and information they weren’t entitled to.
Fields also needs to address Phillips’ need for “immediate treatment,” Herberg wrote.
While Phillips has a “factual understanding” of what is going on, she lacks “rational understanding due to a severe mental illness,” Herberg said in his motion.
The client of Pima County’s restoration program is the judge, not Phillips, Herberg complained. As a result, it is objectionable for those involved in the program to make “treatment” decisions for her, including isolating her from her defense team, Herberg said.
No one has ever proposed a visitation schedule for Phillips, but if they had he would have complied, Herberg said.
The number of visits Phillips has had from Herberg and the rest of his defense team borders were “almost obsessive,” Fields said Thursday.
Because Phillips does understand the facts of her case, she can be helpful to her attorneys and, in fact, he believes it is beneficial for her to do so, Herberg wrote.
Herberg has filed dozens of motions alleging prosecutors and investigators have withheld evidence implicating others in Triano’s death, specifically those involved in the mob. He has also filed several motions alleging the prosecution team, Fields, Judge Howard Fell and Pima County Clerk of the Court Patti Noland are not impartial parties seeking justice, but have a vested interest in the case.
The prosecutors have repeatedly told Fields that Herberg’s motions are frivolous, void of the facts and untimely. They have given Herberg all of the information legally required of them. They’ve also offered technical assistance with computer and digital evidence that has been seized, prosecutors say.
At the end of today’s hearing, Fields told the attorneys “From this day forward, you will handle this case as grown-ups or massive personnel changes will occur.”
He concluded the hearing without giving the attorneys a chance to respond and scheduled a status hearing for April 16.
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org