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MCAO places high-level prosecutor on leave after ABC15 investigation

Posted at 12:07 PM, Feb 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 14:14:25-04

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has placed a high-level capital prosecutor on administrative leave following an ABC15 investigation that revealed her previous conduct as a superior court judge.

An MCAO spokesperson confirmed the internal action against Erin Otis on Monday morning.

“No other information was available for release at this time, Dave,” according to an email sent by MCAO officials.

Multiple sources told ABC15 that Otis’s email address was bouncing emails and her name was not listed in the county attorney’s office employee directory.

On Friday, ABC15 launched its ‘(dis)Honorable’ investigation, which examines the behavior in Otis’s courtroom when she presided over high-level criminal cases.

More conduct is exposed in Otis's courtroom, including a birthday party and allegations of improper contact with defendants. Watch the latest (dis)Honorable investigation tonight on ABC15 News at 6. 

Otis joined the bench as a commissioner in 2012 and was appointed as judge in 2016.

ABC15’s first report exposed Otis and her staff for mocking and ridiculing people during hearings and trials by routinely emailing each other cruel and obscene statements, jokes, and memes.

Arizona’s Commission for Judicial Conduct began investigating the behavior in 2019 but eventually dismissed the case in 2021.

Otis left the bench during the investigation and was hired by MCAO in early 2020. She declined to be interviewed.

Through an MCAO spokesperson, Otis released the following statement last week.

For more than 20 years as a public servant, I have always tried to act with integrity.  I have always taken my ethical responsibilities seriously, as a lawyer and a judge.  The allegations that you are referring to in your email, which were submitted to the Commission on Judicial Conduct three years ago, were serious and extremely troubling to me.  

At the outset, I want to emphasize that all of these allegations were investigated by the Judicial Conduct Commission, and only one was sustained by it.  Specifically, the Commission found that there were occasions where I failed to appropriately supervise my staff.  The other allegations were unfounded and dismissed.  

To be clear, at no time did I ever participate in ex parte communications.  Nor was “an album of memes and photos” ever kept in my division.  As for your inquiry about a birthday party in my courtroom, several years ago, my staff did provide a 2 year-old boy, who was present in the courtroom on his birthday with his parents (who were the defendant and victim), with a donut and I did suggest those present in the courtroom sing happy birthday to him.  My staff also provided the child a toy to play with, as he was getting restless in the courtroom waiting.  This family had previously been in my courtroom, on multiple occasions, with multiple children, due to the lack of childcare available to them.  Attorneys representing both sides were also present and no one raised any concerns. 

During my eight years as a judicial officer, I do not claim do have always done everything perfectly.  In retrospect, the situation relating to the emails and/or memes over email should have been discouraged and stopped.  I admit that I did not handle that in the best way and have taken full responsibility for it.  I have also taken full responsibility for anything I said over email that lacked professional boundaries.

As noted above, I was a Superior Court Judicial Officer for eight years.  During that time, I received excellent judicial performance review scores.  These events that occurred several years ago constituted a very brief, and limited example of my judicial tenure.  I took responsibility for them quite some time ago.

As for the allegations regarding “an album of memes and photos”, a birthday party in my courtroom, or ex parte communications with either side, I absolutely refute the claims, and did so at the time they were made.  An investigation by the Commission on Judicial Conduct has cleared me of any wrong-doing with regard to those allegations.

Late on Monday, a Maricopa County Superior Court spokesperson confirmed that bailiff Barbara Chavez was no longer an employee.

Court rules prohibit officials from releasing information about whether an employee was terminated or resigned.

[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]