FLAGSTAFF (AP) – A Coconino County judge rejected a request Friday to dismiss the county attorney's office from prosecuting a 2015 shooting case on the Northern Arizona University campus.
But Judge Dan Slayton appeared hesitant in issuing his decision, saying William Ring's office appeared to have taken missteps and should have set ground rules for how prosecutors would maintain a strict appearance of propriety with a law firm that employed Ring before he was elected county attorney last November.
Slayton said defense attorneys could file a special action challenging his decision. As of Friday night, nothing had been filed.
The judge said he could not find any published opinions with facts similar to the ones raised by Steven Jones' attorneys.
"I have principles that hopefully are a good compass for me to make my decision," Slayton said. "But again, I could be wrong in my decision denying that motion."
Jones is set to be retried next month on murder and aggravated assault charges.
One of his attorneys, Joshua Davidson, didn't immediately respond to messages Friday seeking comment on his next step. Deputy County Attorney Ammon Barker declined comment on the judge's ruling.
Davidson argued the county attorney's office had a conflict in prosecuting Jones because Ring worked for Aspey, Watkins and Diesel before being elected county attorney last November. He also cited $1,650 in campaign donations and nearly $1,000 in in-kind contributions to Ring from employees of the law firm.
Davidson focused his arguments in court Friday on the timing of the state's interview with Steven Jones' father, Warren, who did not testify in Jones' first trial. Davidson alleged the interview was done not because it was relevant to the case but to benefit Ring's former employer. The law firm used a transcript it obtained from Ring's office without a formal public records request as the basis of a wrongful death lawsuit against Jones and his family, Davidson said.
"This is bigger than Steven Jones. This is bigger than Bill Ring," Davidson said. "This is about the public integrity of the process."
Deputy County Attorney Ammon Barker said the state interviewed Warren Jones to investigate his son's self-defense claim, not to aid the victims' attorneys in a civil suit. Barker said Ring's involvement in the case has been limited to settlement discussions and Ring hasn't directed any communication between him and the victims or the law firm.
Barker said he provided the transcript of Warren Jones' interview to the law firm after a paralegal sent an email asking for it.
Barker urged Slayton to reject the defense request, saying no evidence exists that Ring had a conflict that would deny Jones due process.
"The defense has offered up insinuation, but nothing more," he said.