PHOENIX — An Arizona judge has been reassigned from presiding over criminal cases to instead handling civil matters after a sexual-misconduct investigation was opened against him.
The Pima County Sheriff's Department has confirmed that deputies are investigating sexual-misconduct allegations made by a woman against Pinal County Superior Court Judge Steven Fuller. The case was forwarded to the agency by the Pinal County Sheriff's Office, which wanted to avoid any potential conflict of interest, officials said.
A statement from the Pinal County Superior Court confirmed that Presiding Judge Stephen McCarville was made aware by the accused judge of the allegations against him. The statement says the judge asked to be reassigned by McCarville while the investigation is pending.
The court statement did not identify the judge.
"Judge McCarville has also been in communication with the Administrative Office of the Courts regarding these allegations," the court's statement says. "While the allegations are under investigation, measures will be taken as necessary or appropriate to minimize any potential for compromising the public’s confidence in the Court or the administration of justice."
Deputy Cody Gress, a spokesman for the Pima County Sheriff's Department, said investigators received the case in late January. He said he couldn't provide any more details because it is still in its "early stages." The Sheriff's Department did confirm that Fuller was the judge.
Fuller's lawyer said the woman making the allegations is "making stuff up." The lawyer, Dennis Wilenchik, said the woman made the allegations to derail Fuller's upcoming re-election for his court seat and his engagement.
Fuller, 53, who has been a Pinal County Superior Court judge since 2010, is a former prosecutor for Maricopa and Pinal counties.
"These allegations are completely baseless and were done for ulterior motives," Wilenchik said.
The Arizona Republic in general does not publish the names of people who have alleged sexual molestation or abuse.
The woman's lawyer, Matthew Long, said she didn't report the case earlier because she feared retaliation.
“She finally told when she was safe and when he wasn’t in her life anymore," Long said. "She had to be removed enough from the abuse to a place of safety so she could tell.”
The woman has told investigators the abuse happened when she was a minor.
After Fuller learned of the allegations, he hired Wilenchik, who wrote a signed letter to the accuser in February in which he tells her that she has a history of making false allegations, including sexual-abuse claims against another man who is now dead.
Long gave The Republic a copy of the letter, which Wilenchik confirmed he wrote. Wilenchik said he sent the letter to the woman because the judge believes she is making up the allegations for nefarious reasons.
"He's not guilty of anything," Wilenchik said. "It's vicious and malicious for her to be doing this."
The woman first reported the case in September to Mesa police.
Because the abuse she claimed happened in Pinal County, the Mesa Police Department forwarded it to the Pinal County Sheriff's Office, both Gress and Mesa police confirmed.
The Pinal County Sheriff's Office didn't take the case because of possible conflict-of-interest issues and forwarded it to the Pima County Sheriff's Department to investigate, Gress said.