NewsLocal NewsInvestigationsDishonorable


MCSO court officer defends judge in ABC15 investigation

Posted at 7:10 PM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 21:10:22-05

PHOENIX — After ABC15’s investigation into former judge Erin Otis, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s detention officer assigned to her courtroom is now defending her and said the story that’s being told is slanted.

Ted Bowen, who retired in July 2020, spent some of his last years in Otis’s courtroom.

He defended Otis as an ethical person with a “big heart” who cares about the defendants.

But Bowen acknowledged there was widespread sharing of jokes and memes among the staff, and it went much further than he claimed to have known.

He also said he’s seen memes in other judge’s courtrooms.

“[Otis’s] courtroom was so close. We went to lunch together. This is devastating. This is devastating to Erin,” Bowen said. “I just want the people to realize that [courtroom clerk Kelly Shafer] is no whistleblower. She’s doing this out of anger.”

Otis left the bench in early 2020 while under judicial investigation. She’s now a capital case prosecutor in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, but was put on leave ahead of ABC15’s investigation.

Shafer worked next to Otis for nearly two years.

She documented evidence of behavior that prompted the Maricopa County Clerk’s Office to file a formal complaint with the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct.

One of the key issues was the routine sharing of cruel and obscene emails and memes that mocked and ridiculed defendants, their families, attorneys, witnesses, and jurors during proceedings.

She acknowledged that she laughed at some of the jokes and memes but claims she never sent any.

“I’m ashamed of myself for not coming forward sooner. I live with that every day,” Shafer said.

ABC15 found Shafer after the station began investigating the conduct in Otis’s courtroom during major felony trials and capital murder cases.

While he disagreed with the portrayal of Shafer as a whistleblower, he confirmed many of the things that she has said about what happened in that courtroom.

One point of difference: An allegation that memes and photos were printed out and kept in an album that Shafer called a “hatebook.”

“I have never seen no hatebook,” Bowen said. “There were memes, and plenty of them, but no hatebook.”

Before the alleged album was created, Shafer said some of those photos and memes were hanging on the wall in the office area behind the courtroom.

Bowen said that’s true, but it was not meant as anything other than an innocent joke among friends. There were images of staff members, court managers, and attorneys who appeared in the court, he said.

In a phone conversation before ABC15’s interview with Bowen, he said he also saw memes shared in other judges’ courtrooms.

“You think those memes are something new,” he said on the phone. “I’ve walked around the courthouse in different courtrooms and sometimes people do flash memes.”

Maricopa County Superior Court officials have not yet answered ABC15’s request for comment.

The complaint filed with the judicial commission alleged Otis routinely engaged in ex parte communications, which is a serious ethical violation.

“I run a tight ship,” Bowen said. “At no time did Erin Otis ever discuss a case in the mornings with any of their clients. She would have light talk with them. And every time they would bring up their case, she would hold her hand up and say I will not discuss your case until your lawyer gets here.”

After Shafer revealed what was happening to her supervisors at the Clerk’s Office, Bowen said he was interviewed by the then-presiding judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court.

But he said he was never interviewed by the judicial commission.

In March 2021, the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct dismissed the 2019 complaint against Otis.

Under Arizona Supreme Court rules, records related to the commission’s investigations and deliberations are confidential.

The commission also does not hold any public meetings.

Final orders in dismissed cases are heavily redacted and anonymized.

The commission’s order acknowledged the improper memes and emails but did not address any of the other serious allegations alleged in the underlying complaint.

The commission’s rules and guidelines state that members have discretion to release more information and records if it’s in the interest of justice or the public.

But an ABC15 request for additional material to better understand why the commission dismissed the complaints was denied.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: “(dis)Honorable is an ongoing ABC15 investigation. Upcoming reports will include expert analysis, a lack of transparency and public accountability with judicial oversight, and MCAO’s hiring of the judge. Chief Investigative Reporter Dave Biscobing can be reached at]