Courts


Constitution DayIn case you hadn’t made your Constitution Day plans yet, I recommend to you a great video that includes a retired Supreme Court—and Arizona—jurist.

The National Association of Women Judges has launched a public service announcement (in separate video and audio). In it, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor discusses the value of free and fair courts.

And what is more constitutional than that?

Here is the video:

Fair and Free – Full Film – featuring Sandra Day O’Connor (EN) from Informed Voters Project on Vimeo.

Below is more background from the association (and a hat tip to Francine Walker of The Florida Bar for putting me on this very cool trail!)

“In honor of Constitution Day, September 17, the ‘Informed Voters Project’ sponsored by the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ), has released a new :30 second TV public service announcement and a :60 second radio announcement featuring retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The PSA campaign’s message is a reminder that politics and partisanship have no place in the courts of the United States of America.”

“The National Association of Women Judges ‘Informed Voters – Fair Judges’ project is a non-partisan voter education project developed to increase public awareness about the judicial system, to inform voters that politics and special interest attacks have no place in the courts, and to give voters the tools they need to exercise an informed vote in favor of fair and impartial courts.”

More details c­­an be found here.

Gila County, Ariz., courthouse, by Ken Lund

Gila County, Ariz., courthouse, by Ken Lund

Arizona’s landscape is dotted with some beautiful courthouses, many still in operation. But for those that are not, finding a suitable “chapter two” can be a challenge.

In Gila County, a wonderful old courthouse faced an empty future. But, as an Arizona Republic story explains, it has been transformed into the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts.

I may be on an adaptive reuse kick this month (see my story from yesterday about auto dealerships transforming in Boston), but I was very taken with this Arizona story. You can read the whole thing here.

And for more information on the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts, go here and here.

Cecil Ash is one of the former legislators who is now an Arizona Justice of the Peace.

Cecil Ash is one of the former legislators who is now an Arizona Justice of the Peace.

Do former lawmakers make good jurists? Should so many of them be justices of the peace?

A recent Arizona Republic article covered the intriguing issue of ex-legislators finding a “chapter 2” in the elected position of JP. Given the notoriously low pay of state lawmakers, the job of elected JP is a well-remunerated one.

No surprise: When it came time to write a headline, newspaper copyeditors simply couldn’t resist the phrase “cashing in” as a descriptor: “Ex-legislators cash in as justices of the peace” (the print newspaper title—“Justices Served”—struck the same note). Fair enough, I suppose. But the article itself offered a far more deep-thinking analysis of what the job entails and what kind of person fares best in the fast-paced and busy role.

I was pleased to see that the reporter spoke with Cecil Ash, one of the former lawmakers who now are on the JP bench. An anomaly, Ash is an attorney, rare in our Legislature and on that bench. And when he was in the Lege, he was one of the strongest voices advocating for a change to Arizona’s prison sentencing regime.

You can read the complete Republic story here.

AZ Supreme Court logoAccess to justice saw another positive step in Arizona this month, as Chef Justice Bales named the membership of the newly formed commission charged with examining the issue.

The creation of the Commission and the Chief Justice’s views on it were covered by me here. You also should read the Court’s new strategic agenda here. (And the August 20 Administrative Order is here.)

Here is the Court’s announcement of the new members. As mentioned before, the group will be led by its chair appellate court Judge Larry Winthrop.

“Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales announces the formation of the 18-member Commission on Access to Justice. The Commission will be chaired by Lawrence F. Winthrop, Judge on Division One of the Arizona Court of Appeals and former president of the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education.”

“‘Promoting Access to Justice’ is the first of five goals outlined in Advancing Justice Together: Courts and Communities, the new five-year strategic agenda for Arizona’s judiciary. In the Pledge of Allegiance, Chief Justice Bales noted, we commit ourselves to the goal of justice for all. The new Commission will be charged with identifying specific strategies to help us better realize this goal as our State’s population and technology change.”

“‘This is not a study commission; it’s a commission that will actively develop innovative ideas that remove barriers to justice,’ Chief Justice Scott Bales said.”

An Administrative Order issued on August 20 outlines initial priorities for the Commission:

  • Assisting self-represented litigants and revising court rules and practices to facilitate access and the fair processing of family court and eviction cases.
  • Encouraging lawyers and law firms to provide pro bono services or financial support for civil legal aid for those who cannot afford counsel.
  • Informing lawyers and other citizens about the availability of a state income tax credit for contributions to agencies that serve the working poor, including legal services agencies in Arizona.

In many family and justice court cases, one or more of the parties does not have a lawyer.  Self-representation presents a tremendous challenge not only to those litigants, but also to judges and other court personnel.

“Our courts and judges are doing the best they can under the circumstances, but the question is whether we can do a better job of helping people who choose to represent themselves in court, or for those who cannot afford the services of a lawyer,” Judge Winthrop said. “Our state has made great strides in this area over the last several years, but there remain some critical needs, such as helping people understand the process and navigate the court system. We also should do what we can to boost financial resources for legal service organizations who assist those most in need.”

Access to justice can be golden: Arizona Attorney Magazine opening image for a story on the topic by former State Bar of Arizona President Amelia Craig Cramer, Oct. 2012.Judge Winthrop also hopes that the Commission can further engage the business community concerning these issues.

“We want business and government leaders to understand that meaningful access to justice is a workplace and productivity issue. Most of the self-represented litigants in family court and housing cases are, in fact, part of some company’s work force. The whole enterprise suffers if your employee or co-worker is out of the office because they’re in family court or are dealing with housing issues,” Judge Winthrop explained. “If we can help people effectively resolve their court matters and in less time, that’s a ‘win-win’ for both the employee and the employer.”

Judge Winthrop said that people with legal issues are sometimes overwhelmed, and often don’t know where to go for legal help. Raising awareness of civil legal service options and encouraging greater community involvement will be a goal of the Commission. Taking advantage of advances in technology, retooling existing court-based legal self-help centers and the idea of expanding such services into a public library or community college setting will be possible approaches considered by the Commission.

Members of the Commission on Access to Justice include:

Chair

Lawrence F. Winthrop, Arizona Court of Appeals, Division I

Michael Jeanes, Superior Court Clerk

Mike Baumstark, Administrative Director of the Courts or designee

Kip Anderson, Court Administrator

Kevin Ruegg, Executive Director, Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education          

Maria Elena Cruz, Superior Court Judge

John Phelps, Executive Director, State Bar of Arizona or designee

Janet Barton, Superior Court Judge

Ellen Katz, Legal Aid Services, Maricopa

James Marner, Superior Court Judge

Anthony Young, Legal Aid Services, Southern Arizona

Thomas Berning, Limited Jurisdiction Court Judge

Steve Seleznow, Public Member

Rachel Torres Carrillo, Limited Jurisdiction Court Judge

Lisa Urias, Public Member

Barb Dawson, Attorney

Millie Cisneros, Attorney

Janet Regner, Arizona Judicial Council Liaison

Arizona civil verdicts 2013 gavel

Are you curious to hear the stories behind the top Arizona civil verdicts of the past year? At Arizona Attorney Magazine, we covered the topic in our June cover story written, as always, by attorney Kelly MacHenry. But as they say, there’s always more to the story.

This Wednesday, August 27, you can hear Kelly explain what lay behind those significant jury verdicts; she’ll also cover punitive awards, defense verdicts and trends. I have seen her presentation over the years, and it offers helpful insight into what the jurors (and the lawyers) were thinking.

The event will be at The University Club, 39 E. Monte Vista Road, Phoenix, AZ 85004. The Arizona Women Lawyers Association event is $25 for members and $35 for nonmembers.

More information and registration are here.

Canadian Bar Association CBA 2014 report titled Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in CanadaThis morning, if my plans don’t go awry, I’ll be attending the kickoff meeting of the new Arizona Supreme Court task force that will assess the management and governance of the State Bar of Arizona. I’ll report back on how it goes and what comes next.

Until then, you may want to skim some material about proposed changes to the Canadian legal system. True, the northerly report, if adopted, would make significant changes far beyond one bar association. But I was impressed by the Canadian task force’s willingness to look at all elements of the legal profession with a new eye.

I’m suspecting that the Arizona Supreme Court seeks a similarly clear-eyed look.

The entire report, titled “Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada,” is here.

Jordan Furlong

Jordan Furlong

And I agree: 106 pages is tough sledding on a Friday. But that’s why you should start with a Jordan Furlong column.

I have mentioned Jordan Furlong before (here and here). And I think his name is well associated with any assessment of what the future of law holds.

His concise and point-by-point analysis deconstructs the Canadian Bar Association report, which he admits he likes quite a bit. And, I’m pretty sure, his column and the related report are solid guideposts for what we may see coming to these United States in the not-so-distant future.

Here is Jordan’s post.

Have a wonderful—and transformative—weekend.

Here's how we covered the False Claims Act last March. (Get it? Whistleblower?)

Here’s how we covered the False Claims Act last March. (Get it? Whistleblower?)

Every now and then, the timeliness of a magazine article is brought home to you with great force. Yesterday’s Arizona Republic contained a piece that reminded me how valuable a magazine (even in print!) can be.

The subject of the Dennis Wagner story is a huge fraud settlement that a Tucson hospital must pay. As the article says, the Carondelet Health Network will pay $35 million, which is “the largest penalty of its kind in Arizona.” Just as fascinating, though, is the fact that “a whistle-blower who exposed the case will receive nearly $6 million of that sum.”

Read the whole story here.

The whistleblower is a Tucson woman named Jacqueline Bloink, “identified online as president of an agency that provides health-care compliance consulting and fraud investigations.”

Bloink sued Carondelet in 2011 in federal court. Then, “The Justice Department intervened and said Carondelet ‘knowingly and falsely billed’ the federal health agencies, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office news release.”

Back in March, we published an article regarding the continuing vitality of the federal False Claims Act. In it, authors Barb Dawson and Daniel Huitink explained how a qui tam plaintiff may step in and sue when they see wrongdoing that affects the public purse. Or, as Dennis Wagner writes, “The False Claims Act contains provisions that allow private citizens to file fraud complaints on behalf of the government and to share in whatever funds are recovered. Under terms of the settlement, Bloink is to receive $5.95 million.”

His article includes commentary from Bloink’s attorney:

“‘This settlement is an extraordinary achievement and confirms once again the essential role that private whistle-blowers and their counsel play in helping our partners in the government to combat health-care fraud,’ David J. Caputo, one of Bloink’s attorneys, said in a written statement.”

Extra points, there, for managing to shoehorn in the value of the whistleblower’s lawyer!

I encourage you to go back and read the article by Barb and Daniel. They give a concise history of what was called “Lincoln’s Law” (named for Abraham Lincoln; you’ll have to read to see why).

More important for possible clients who are potential defendants, read the practice tips our authors provide on how to head off such a lawsuit before it happens. As I read their sage advice, I imagine Carondelet missed the boat in numerous areas.

Just another example of how heeding a good attorney—and purchasing a reasonably priced magazine subscription—can make a world of difference.

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