The Arizona Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday regarding whether a Mesa priest is entitled to a jury trial on misdemeanor charges that could require him to register as a sex offender.
The questions involved the case of the Rev. Dale Fushek, former pastor of St. Timothy’s Catholic Community in Mesa. Fushek was charged in November 2005 with having sexually related discussions with teenagers during confessions, and exposing himself to teens as he got into a hot tub more than 10 years ago.
Fushek did not attend Thursday morning’s proceedings.
The court barraged each attorney with questions during their 20-minute time slots in an effort to determine what test it can apply when it considers whether a punishment other than prison limits approving a jury trial request.
Fushek’s attorney, Tom Hoidal, argued Fushek deserves a jury trial because if convicted and required to register as a sex offender, he could be barred from living in certain neighborhoods and working in certain jobs, especially those involving children.
Hoidal noted after Megan’s Law passed in 1994, the state began requiring law enforcement agencies to publish sex offender notifications, further expanding the “scarlet letter” effect that comes with being convicted and registering as a sex offender.
Outside of court, Hoidal pointed out Arizona is one of the few states that requires registration as a sex offender for certain misdemeanors.
The Arizona Court of Appeals had earlier rejected Hoidal’s argument, finding jury trials are reserved for “serious” offenses, such as those punishable by at least six months in jail, and for offenses that historically have been promised a jury trial.
Deputy Maricopa County attorney Barbara Marshall argued Thursday that Fushek’s having to register as a sex offender is only a possibility — not a certain outcome — if he is convicted. Thus, according to existing law, the case does not merit a jury trial, Marshall said.
The Supreme Court has taken the matter under advisement. If the court sides with Fushek, the case would likely return to the San Tan Justice Court for a criminal jury trial.
Fushek faces one count of assault, five counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and one count of indecent exposure.
Fushek served as St. Timothy’s pastor for 20 years and founded the national Life Teen program.