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From the "What Were You Thinking?" file, here's a story that left seasoned prosecutors and a judge scratching their heads.
Francis Griffin, a Kennebec County prosecutor, was minding his own business when a photo popped up on his phone. It was embarrassing, but thankfully not the personally embarrassing kind of photo.
It was a photo of the defense attorney's notes, apparently sent by a courtroom security officer. Sgt. Joel Eldridge allegedly took the photo in the courtroom while the attorneys were in chambers with the judge. Griffin reported it to the district attorney.
Case of the Wrong-Way Photo
"I am shocked," said District Attorney Maeghan Maloney. "Based on the information I have at this time, a crime has not been committed. The alleged conduct does, however, indicate a serious ethical breach. In a courtroom, it is imperative that everyone be treated fairly and equally."
Griffin informed the defense attorney, who advised the judge. Eldridge, in the meantime, has been placed on administrative leave.
"It's outrageous," defense attorney Sherry Tash said. "He is one of the people who's supposed to protect the sanctity of the courtroom, and he goes and does this."
The photo showed the name and phone number of the defense attorney's investigator. The district attorney said it was not helpful to the prosecution, but condemned the security breach.
No Cell Phones in the Courtroom
"A defense attorney's notes are never to be viewed by anyone other than the defense attorney and the defendant," Maloney said. "I have no interest in seeing them. The criminal justice system requires they remain private."
No one is certain why Eldridge, an 18-year veteran of the criminal justice system, sent the photo. He has declined to comment, and court officials said nothing like this has happened before.
Judge Eric Walker, speaking from the bench, said he didn't understand why it happened.
"It appears as though court security has taken a real serious hit as far as credibility is concerned," Walker said. "I have no words to describe how I feel about this right now."
The case involved a man charged with various crimes, including aggravated mischief for defacing a concrete bench in the holding area of the courthouse. Eldridge was one of the officers involved in the criminal mischief charge.
Judges typically prohibit cell phone use in the courtroom. In the wake of the security officer's breach, it is unclear whether the rule will be extended to court workers.