December 2010


On the last day of a calendar year, it is commonplace for folks to take stock of their lives and resolve to do things differently in the coming year.

Yeah, right.

Don’t get me wrong. Aspirations are astounding. Goals are great. Resolutions are really, really remarkable.

But in my case this year, I need only look to my holiday presents to see what paths I have been treading. For it is my loved ones, you see, who took stock of me for me—and wrapped it up in bows.

On this last Change of Venue Friday of the year, let me tell you about three of those gifts.

The first came from our older daughter, Willa. She got me the book “The Best of Roald Dahl.”

I love Dahl, and a collection of his seriously askew tales is a great gift. But Dahl is not known for having been a fabulously cheery individual. And his stories tend to share the darker side of the human experience.

The cover squib trumpeted the fact that the author’s work was famously “nasty and wicked.” The first story I read featured a female main character who, by the fourth page, had killed her husband. By hitting him. In the head. With a piece of meat. Specifically, a frozen leg of lamb.

Put that in the category of “things that make me go hmmm.”

Next was a charming gift from our younger daughter, Thea. It appeared to be a beautiful pen, something I could use every day.

On closer inspection I could see a black ribbed crown. Pushing it caused the pen to vibrate.

A wondrous massage pen, the package announced. The perfect gift for those filled with stress.

So now I could write stories filled with Sturm und Drang, and then use my pen to obliterate it.

Hmmm, I thought. Nasty and wicked. Stress-filled. What could be next?

The last exhibit of evidence is a book I was given by our good friends. This last may be enough to convince the jury that my ways need mending.

The gift was a book by David Rakoff titled “Half Empty.” Rakoff “defends the commensensical notion that you should always assume the worst, because you’ll never be disappointed.” The book is his attempt to address the fact that “There seem[s] no longer to be any room in the discourse for anything but the sunniest outlook.”

In the first story, titled “The Bleak Shall Inherit,” Rakoff taps “deeply into the churlish vein,” concluding that “as best as I can determine, the universe cares not one jot for you or me.”

Rakoff acknowledges that “in the pessimist’s view of reality, there is often little difference between ‘worst possible outcome’ and ‘outcome.’”

Well, happy holidays to you, too.

Of course, friends and family know me well.  I am consuming the books and using the pen—both to shake the world with my thoughts and to massage my forehead.

But after all the gift-giving, I was glad all over again that my wife and I decided long ago not to exchange Christmas gifts. I had had enough with the peering into my heart of darkness, and I was not eager to have someone who knows the trail so well start spelunking in there. We’ll leave deeper excavation for 2011.

Have a great weekend.

Terry Goddard, Arizona Attorney General

Terry Goddard’s last day as Arizona Attorney General comes next Monday, and he has penned a farewell to state residents in today’s Arizona Republic.

Most everyone you talk with will admit that Goddard was always a class act. (In fact, criticism of his campaign this year tends to focus on his being too nice—what a problem to have!).

So friendly and open was he that it was common for people—including journalists—to refer to him simply as “Terry.”

Kind and friendly, yes, but always wry and observant. We wrote about one of his campaign speeches back in October, when he had a room of supporters rollicking.

Terry exits stage left just as state government devolves into problems that are more intractable than ever before. Here’s hoping that he finds new ways to serve the state that he loves.

As Terry wrote today:

Thank you, Arizona, for the pleasure and privilege of serving as your attorney general.

This has been the hardest job I have ever loved! I have to agree with Bill Clinton when he said being AG was “the best job I ever had. I didn’t have to appoint or disappoint, and if I ever had to do anything really unpopular, I could blame it on the Constitution.”

As I get ready to leave office Monday, I recall vivid moments both good and not so good. The legal victories were sweet, but my list includes unforgettable personal experiences – some funny, some poignant and many inspiring.

Read his complete comments here.

Farewell,  General Goddard.

Phoenix Police Chief [sic] Jack Harris (right) accepts the flag from the honor guard that adorned the casket of Officer Travis Murphy, who was laid to rest during ceremonies at Phoenix Memorial Park, May 26, 2010. (Rob Schumacher, The Arizona Republic)

 

For anyone interested in the state of policing in Arizona’s largest city, today’s Arizona Republic has a Q&A with Jack Harris, the “Public-Safety Manager.”

Unfortunately, it will take you all of about eight minutes to read it. This interview with the most important cop in one of the state’s most beleaguered departments is about 30 column inches, and barely scrapes the surface of the Phoenix Police Department’s challenges.

I hesitate to nitpick the reporter who covered the story. William Hermann has reported on a wide variety of city topics over the years, and I’ve always appreciated his coverage. And there may have been all kinds of other factors that kept the published Q&A (too) short. Editors could have trimmed it (likely to fit more about Don Stapley’s lawsuit against Maricopa County, in regard to Andrew Thomas and the first-most-beleaguered law enforcement department in the state—the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office).

In 2007, Jack Harris retired as chief of police. Two weeks later, he became public-safety manager. (Michael Schennum, The Arizona Republic)

Of course, it’s possible that Harris only gave Hermann 15 minutes for questions. Or—worst of all—that he demanded the questions be e-mailed to him. But I hope Bill Hermann would have mentioned that in the story.

One of the most troubling aspects of Harris’s tenure—unacknowledged in the Q&A—is evident in the conflict between the story’s headline and the cutline of the accompanying photo by Rob Schumacher.

The photo shows “Jack Harris, Phoenix’s chief of police …”

That’s inaccurate, which the Republic tacitly acknowledges in the headline half-an-inch farther south. That hed reads, “Public-safety manager vows he’ll keep serving.”

So Harris is not the Chief of Police. That was the position her formerly occupied, until he retired and began drawing his pension. Immediately rehired by a compliant Mayor and City Council, he has been ever since the Public Safety Manager. With a new salary and shot at a new pension.

The City has claimed that it’s not the same job, that Harris has “added duties.” Well, OK. But is it possible that the “agency chaos” in the department has something to do with a pension end-run that has become all too familiar?

The Republic has covered the Harris pension controversy before. Most recently, they reported that the City Council voted to pay Harris’s legal bills in the pension challenge. So how about some follow-up questions while Harris sits on the hot seat?

In addition, the Republic has covered Arizona’s public pension problems in depth this fall. The economic consequences may be severe (though we may ultimately discover, not as severe as the blaring headlines would suggest). But one of the unfortunate consequences of double-dipping goes beyond the merely fiscal; it is also ethical, a crisis in confidence.

Here’s hoping Bill Hermann asked the Chief—I mean the Manager—about the economic machinations that got him to keep his position. His response, if we get it, could go a long way toward proving Harris’s claim that his department “doesn’t put up with poor behavior. We’re not hiding anything.”

My post yesterday about Jim Morrison’s pardon in Florida for 1969 charges got some feedback. In case you didn’t read a comment posted yesterday, I’m pasting it in here:

“The Doors obviously know nothing about the law because if they did, they would realize the pardon wipes out the two convictions that Morrison was found guilty of by a jury. Expunging the record would merely seal the case from the eyes of the public. How in the world is anyone going to expunge this case from the minds of millions of Doors fans all over the world? This statement from them is misguided. They already got the apology. Under Florida law, and the laws of most states, only the family can elect to pursue expunging. The Morrison family have had 41 years to do it and have elected not to. The pardon was appropriate in this case and the Doors should respect that this matter is now officially closed, in my opinion. Any credible lawyer would not have advised the Doors to put this statement out in this form. The timing of this statement is suspect, also, given the fact that the month prior to the pardon, the Doors were very much in favor of it. To me, this statement makes them seem like ingrates in the eyes of their fans. Further, Jim Morrison’s father voiced his full support for the pardon before he died in 2008. He told MSNBC from what I’ve read that he endorses the idea of a pardon because he was told a pardon would erase the charges, which it did. I’m troubled that the Doors would attempt to further a matter that has been legally resolved. As of 12-9-10, Jim Morrison is no longer guilty in the state of Florida. What is the problem?”

And then I got an e-mail from someone (I believe an Arizona lawyer) providing more background on the story. It was a link to a more complete history of the case and the pardon process. The online content also chided online commentators (gulp) for opining on the matter without sufficient knowledge.

Well, if THAT’s the new standard … !

Of course, some of you may have noted that I used the post merely as a vehicle to convey some great Doors song titles and lyrics. Some were obvious, others less so.

Did you get them all?

The Jim Morrison kerfuffle also taught me something else important: There is a “Doors Collectors Magazine.” Very cool.

Get reading.

Arizona Senate President-Elect Russell Pearce

Controversy continued to build this morning over the proper role of various state players in the Independent Redistricting Commission.

Or should I say, the “Independent” Redistricting Commission. Whether quotation marks should be appended in future news stories remains to be seen.

The past week has seen the tension escalate, as state Republican leaders made known their distaste for the choices that would be forwarded their way. Publicly, they went after three nominees—two Republicans and one Independent. Read more about that here.

The public request to withdraw came from House Speaker Kirk Adams and Senate President-elect Russell Pearce. And the three who were “invited” to withdraw are Mark Schnepf and Steve Sossaman (Republicans) and Paul Bender (Independent).

Since that news story yesterday, we’ve learned even more.

Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams

This morning, the Arizona Supreme Court announced that two of those nominees—the Republicans—had tendered their withdrawal to the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Rebecca White Berch. Here is the letter from Mark Schnepf.

December 26, 2010

The Hon. Rebecca White Berch;

Members of the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments

1501 W. Washington St. Suite 221

Phoenix, AZ 85007

Dear Chief Justice Berch and Members of the Commission:

This letter is in regards to my application to serve on the Independent Redistricting Commission.  I have received and reviewed email copies of the letters written by Speaker Adams, President-Elect Pearce and Paul Bender.

I disagree with the Speaker and the President-Elect regarding my qualifications to serve on the IRC.  As I understand the definition of “public office” as explained by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments I don’t believe that service on the New Magma Irrigation Board disqualifies me to serve on the IRC.

However, since the Speaker and President-Elect appoint the two Republican members and since I am one of the Republican nominees and they both oppose my application, it seems futile to remain a candidate.   I am respectfully withdrawing my application to serve on the IRC.

Thank you for the time and effort you are spending on this selection process.  Please accept my appreciation for your consideration and support of my application.   

Sincerely,

Mark Schnepf

So Schnepf did not reassess the facts and the law and conclude that the Republican leadership was right. He looked at the political landscape, counted votes, and saw that the jig was up.

What part of “keeping politics out of the process” does this serve?

ASU Law Professor Paul Bender, Dec. 2, 2010, speaking at an event honoring the Arizona Constitution Centennial

The Arizona Republic ran an editorial this morning titled “Keep politics out as Arizona draws new voting lines.” It urged the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments (which drafts the list of nominees for the Independent Redistricting Commission) to maintain its independence:

“You have the deep responsibility to Arizonans to maintain your independence and objectivity. In appearance as well as action. Normally, your commission deals with judicial appointments, which are far less fraught.”

“Now, the political heat is intense. And you must assert your independence.”

The complete editorial is here. You know it’s an important issue when it gets its own editorial (and when the Republic is breathless enough to use a sentence fragment).

Some may believe that this is a controversy that only nerds and wonks could love. Others may roll their eyes and say that everything about redistricting is political, so what is everyone complaining about?

But redistricting—while not forever—is for a long time. And the legislators who have the power to “urge” withdrawals today may be unhappy in 10 years, or 20, when their political opponents wield the same persuasive big stick.

Of course, that would be taking the long view, an unlikely outcome in a short-sighted state.

The Commission meets tomorrow. Let’s hope we can keep the quotation  marks out of Independent.

Forget electing a President. Florida officials couldn’t even make a decision about what tie to wear anymore without igniting a national firestorm.

This week, Florida, with the whole Eastern seaboard, has been a rider on a snowstorm. And this month the storm grew fiercer, as the Florida Board of Clemency voted to pardon Doors frontman Jim Morrison. He had been arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious conduct in 1969, based on his actions at a Miami concert. (He subsequently died in 1971, while still challenging the charges.) There were claims that Morrison had exposed himself to the audience (which would take “Touch Me” to a different level).

The clemency board acted at the behest of outgoing Florida Governor Charlie Crist—and we couldn’t get much higher than that. Crist has admitted to being a big Doors fan, and he took up the idea at the request of a fellow fan.

You’d think state government has bigger worries than this, but you know what they say: People are strange.

The pardon was not welcome news to Morrison’s family and former bandmates, who are looking a gift pardon in the mouth. Florida officials really lit their fire.

The former Doors musicians believe that the original charges were political grandstanding in the first place, and that the pardon is more of the same. They want the matter expunged, not pardoned.

They have said the same thing since Morrison’s death. But they said the time to hesitate is through.

And while Florida is at it, they say, an apology is in order.

No word yet from the hell freezes over department.

Jim Morrison in 1969

Man o man: A guv can’t even exercise one of the best perks of his office anymore without getting in a tussle. He probably just wanted to break on through (to the Other Side)—Morrison may forgive him, but living fans? Not so much.

We’ll have to say how it all shakes out when the music’s over. Until then, read the band’s complete statement here.

Four things I’m thankful for (among many) this holiday season:

  • Having seen the Matthew Weiner version of A Christmas Carol during its long run before it ended this month at the Actors Theater in Phoenix. It was reviving rather than treacly—and I can think of no higher accolade to give to what is usually a Christmas confection.

That was one of the points of Robrt Pela in his winsome farewell to the show, in his review of “A Christmas Carol” for KJZZ.

  • Getting to watch our daughter Willa—and a bunch of other great actors—through a successful run of a different play, also of the holiday variety, but through a seriously askew lens. The play is called American Pastorela: Show Us Your Papers.

Show Us Your Papers is the brainchild of playwright James E. Garcia. You can read a little about it here.

The show was produced by New Carpa Theater Company. Find more about them on the web. And remember to like them on Facebook.

New Carpa Theater (formerly Colores Actors-Writers Workshop) was founded in 2002 by Garcia. He wrote the play, a retelling of a traditional Mexican Nativity story, updating it every year with modern political and comedic elements. This year’s production had the devil (El Diablo) hell-bent on preventing the Hernandez family from making a trek from Mexico to Bethlehem to see God’s only begotten son. On the way, they met Russell Pearce, Janet Napolitano, Dennis Burke, Billy Mays, and many more.

Willa played a Devil’s Minion—excited beyond words to have the chance to work with Russell Pearce—who had been accidentally electrocuted in a bathtub in the opening scene.

The holiday laughs keep on coming. Trust me—it was funny, filled with laugh-out-loud moments. But it also aimed to make us a cringe a bit as we took a look at our state.

  • Great Arizona weather—however brief before the summer heat starts again in about a month. Enjoy this photo of an early-morning Camelback with its little cap of fog—our own Kilimanjaro-lite.

Happy holidays. Next week, I will be out of the office. But I’m still planning to be opinionated—though perhaps a little less verbose—so I’m sure I’ll share news from Arizona’s legal landscape.

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