James Ray prosecution bears significant cost

CAMP VERDE - Halfway through the manslaughter trial of motivational speaker and author James Arthur Ray, hard costs associated with the case approach $200,000, while other, less quantifiable costs could be in the same neighborhood.

April 15, the day after a defense motion for mistrial interrupted the prosecution, would have been the thirty-second of sixty-five scheduled days, including jury selection.

At that point, identifiable spending by the county sheriff, the county attorney, the Superior Court and the jury commissioner amounted to $197,313, according to public records.

More difficult to determine is staff time involved, particularly on the part of Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, her co-counsel Deputy County Attorney Bill Hughes, and numerous staff members who spent time on the 17-month pretrial investigation as well as the ongoing prosecution.

Polk, elected county attorney in 2000, earns an annual salary of $123,678 while Hughes, who began with the office in 2002, earns $94,017.

On Oct. 8, 2009, two people died after a Ray-led sweat lodge ceremony at the Angel Valley Retreat Center near Sedona. By the time a third victim had succumbed to injuries she allegedly suffered during the ceremony, the investigation was well underway, with YCSO Detective Ross Diskin at the wheel.

According to YCSO records, Diskin's overtime, expenses and travel have thus far amounted to $60,243. As the case's lead investigator, he is currently seated at the prosecution table with Polk and Hughes four days a week.

When Polk named Hughes her office's Outstanding Felony Prosecutor of the Year in 2008, she said he had become her "go-to attorney." It was therefore natural then that, given the complex nature of the case and her decision to prosecute it herself, Polk chose Hughes as her second chair.

In the four months of the investigation that led to Ray's Feb. 3, 2010, indictment, Polk and Hughes and supporting staff members spent "an extensive amount of time" aiding the investigation and cementing their case, according to Chief Deputy Yavapai County Attorney Dennis McGrane. And in the months leading up to the beginning of jury selection on Feb. 16, the office was assailed with a seemingly endless barrage of motions from the Los Angeles-based law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson.

The time trial itself has seen no lessening of the after-hours legal battles, making arriving at even an approximate labor cost figure a daunting task.

"Getting even close would be a shot in the dark," McGrane said, noting that prosecutors, who do not invoice for their time, do not keep specific track of billable hours as do attorneys in the private sector.

Hard costs from the prosecutors amount to $26,159. Travel arrangements, primarily for witnesses, have so far cost $17,827, and the remaining $8,332 has been spent on retaining and paying expert witnesses.

Two of those witnesses, Yavapai College Professor Steven Pace and "cultbuster" Rick Ross, may not testify. Pace, an expert on outdoor commercial activities, was to give his opinion on the responsibilities of someone facilitating an event while Ross would have provided testimony on how persuasive techniques could have moved participants to remain in the sweat lodge against their own good sense.

The cost to operate Judge Warren Darrow's court, according to Superior Court Clerk Jeanne Hicks, is $1,478 per day. In addition to the 30 days of trial so far, staff estimates an additional 10 days in which the majority of the court's time was spent on the matter. Forty days of court time comes to $59,120. Hicks noted that 50 percent of Darrow's salary is paid through a grant and not directly by Yavapai County taxpayers.

The cost that may outstrip all others is for the 17-member jury hearing the case. Through April 15, according to public records, per diem, mileage and lost wages has cost $51,792.

Almost $17,000 of that amount will be reimbursed to the county through Arizona's Lengthy Trial Fund, a state program that pays jurors up to $300 per day.

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