If a license plate is named after one of the deadly sins, you might want to avoid it (unless you're Al Pacino).

If a license plate is named after one of the deadly sins, you might want to avoid it (unless you’re Al Pacino).

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to be in Los Angeles—which I really like, before you start with the grimaces. But maybe my pleasure came partially from the fact that I was not driving. The few times I had to travel about the freeway system, battle-weary cabbies did it for me.

My passenger status allowed me the luxury of looking at my surroundings as they flew by in a blur. But L.A. traffic jams also allow a more relaxed view of Southern California, and that is when I got to see my share of vanity license plates.

A strange thing, the vanity plate. Many (to me) are merely inscrutable, making me wonder why someone would spend money on an inside joke. (Of course, I’m famously clueless about deciphering the words. Years ago, I gazed at a plate, muttering, “Flaming Oz?” over and over. Until my daughters realized I was being dense, not funny, and they kindly informed me the plate meant “flamingoes.” Which was still stupid, but whatever.)

I’ve remarked before on the presence of lawyer license plates, and Above the Law has had some fun at the drivers’ expense.

Well, this past weekend, I saw one of my favorite attorney plates ever. As we drove east on the 10 out of Santa Monica, traffic ground to a near-halt as we entered the lane to head south on the 405. And that’s when a gorgeous black Porsche 911 Carrera slipped in ahead of us. It took me a moment to stop savoring the vehicle itself and for me to glance down at the plate: “Mns Rea.”

lawyer license plate mens rea

Yes, counselor, we’re very impressed. (Click for larger version.)

Even in the required shortened form, I understood immediately we were behind Mens Rea. Can’t recall law school? Well, it’s that quotable bit of Latin that refers to criminal intent, a necessary element to establish guilt.

Why a lawyer would gleefully holler “malice” from his plate, I don’t know. But it seems to fall in nicely with the humblebrag, the sly sharing of mundane personal information that covertly tries to toot your own horn.

An Arizona license plate of a decidedly different variety. immigration Anti SB1070

An Arizona license plate of a decidedly different variety.

Not impressive enough that the driver’s in a Porsche? Well, he (or she, I couldn’t tell) is also happy to let you in on the secret that a successful lawyer career paid for that machinery from Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen.

What do you think of vanity plates? If you catch a photo of one that makes you laugh—or seethe—send it to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

State Bar of Arizona SBA_Logo_ColorThis morning, an update from my colleague Alberto Rodriguez at the State Bar of Arizona:

The State Bar of Arizona and Univision 33 hosted the final Abogados a Su Lado (“Lawyers at Your Side”) of 2012 on Monday, December 10. The following is a recap from the public service program.

Summary: Volunteer attorneys answered 93 calls during the two-hour phone bank focused on criminal charges/issues. The following is a small sample of the questions that were received:

  • Can I get my license reinstated after receiving a DUI?
  • How does receiving a misdemeanor charge affect my immigration case/status?
  • How is a potential sentence determined?
  • Should I hire a private attorney or use a public defender? What are the differences?
  • What are the repercussions of getting a DUI?
  • How do I take care of a warrant issued in another state?Univision 33 logo

All the Abogados a Su Lado volunteers were first-time participants. Calls were consistent from 5 to 7 p.m., which led to another successful phone bank.

In 2012, 20 Abogados a Su Lado volunteer attorneys answered legal questions from 284 consumers during three separate phone banks.

The State Bar of Arizona and Univision 33 will continue to provide the Abogados a Su Lado public service program in 2013 and are currently identifying dates and topics for the new year.

If you are seeking some lunchtime learning, a few upcoming webinars may fill the bill. The following are co-sponsored by Fordham Law School and The National Law Journal.

They are free to “attend,” but pre-registration is required. (See below for web registration details.)

And are any of the topics something you’d like to see covered in Arizona Attorney? Let me know, and we could slot an article.

Here is the information from Fordham:

Ethical Issues for Criminal Practitioners
October 2, 2012 at 1 p.m. Eastern

Panelists will focus on the ethical issues that often arise during criminal cases and the recent developments in ethics and professional responsibility.  Speakers include: Hon. Jed S. Rakoff, Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York; Bruce Green, Professor and Director of the Louis Stein Center for Legal Ethics at Fordham Law School; Rita M. Glavin, Partner at Seward & Kissel LLP; and Sylvia Shaz Schweder, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

The Foreclosure Crisis in the Courts
October 16, 2012 at 1 p.m. Eastern

Discussion will center on important trends in foreclosure law in the wake of the housing crisis. Speakers include: Nestor Davidson, Professor of Law and Founding Director of the Urban Law Center at Fordham Law School; Bruce J. Bergman, Partner at Berkman, Henoch, Peterson, Peddy & Fenchel, P.C.; and Meghan Faux, Director of the Foreclosure Prevention Project at South Brooklyn Legal Services.

Navigating Prosecutorial Discretion in Immigration Law
October 30, 2012 at 1 p.m. Eastern

President Obama’s recent prosecutorial discretion initiative, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) relief process will be the focus of discussion. Speakers include: Jennifer Gordon, Professor of Law at Fordham Law School; Marielena Hincapié, Executive Director at the National Immigration Law Center; and David A. Martin, Warner-Brooker Distinguished Professor of International Law at the University of Virginia School of Law and Deputy General Counsel, Department of Homeland Security (2009-2011); General Counsel, Immigration and Naturalization Service (1995-1998).

The Boundaries of Fair Use After Cariou v. Prince
November 13, 2012 at 1 p.m. Eastern

Panelists will analyze the decision waiting to be made in Cariou v. Prince and the impact the case will have on the boundaries of visual art, fair use, and freedom of expression, particularly in visual art. Speakers include: Sonia Katyal, Joseph M. McLaughlin Professor of Law at Fordham Law School; Dale Cendali, Partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP; Virginia Rutledge, Attorney and former Vice President and General Counsel for Creative Commons; and Christine Steiner, Special Counsel for Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP.

To register, go to law.com/ethics, law.com/foreclosure, law.com/immigration or law.com/fairuse to register.

Dates:

  • October 2, 2012 (Ethics)
  • October 16, 2012 (Foreclosure)
  • October 30, 2012 (Immigration)
  • November 13, 2012 (Fair Use)

Time: 1 p.m. – 2 p.m. Eastern

Our cover story in the January 2012 Arizona Attorney examines the prospects for criminal sentencing reform in the state. It quotes numerous people locally and nationally on the topic.

Here are links to a large number of the studies and reports cited in the article:

Just more than a month after U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke re-asserted his position that prosecution on Indian land is a priority, we can see significant movement on the topic.

It may have been the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington that made wide-ranging legislative proposals, but they have the fingerprints of western states’ prosecutors all over it. And that’s a great thing.

As an article describes it, the changes would “stiffen federal sentences for certain domestic violence crimes in Indian Country and expand tribes’ authority to enforce protection orders against non-Indians living on reservations.”

I’ve written more than once about the crisis confronting law-abiding people on Indian land. And this article reiterates that crimes have reached “epidemic rates”:

“One-third of all American Indian women will be raped in their lifetime, and nearly three of five have been assaulted by their partner, the Justice Department says. In addition, murder rates are 10 times higher than the national average for Native women.”

The proposed changes would be considered in congressional reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Among them would be an expansion of federal jurisdiction over crimes committed on the reservation. The change would mean “sentences more in line with those faced by defendants in state courts who commit the same crimes, and give prosecutors better tools for deterring the offenses.”

Proposals also would allow tribal courts to enforce protection orders against non-Indians, no matter where the order originates.

If enacted, the VAWA amendments would take effect in two years.

We’ll follow the story as it develops. But this is a noteworthy step in stemming the epidemic.

Victor Riches, Arizona House Chief of Staff

Two stories percolating this week demonstrate solidarity in the face of adversity. Oddly enough, both come out of the Arizona Legislature.

I say “oddly” because recent actions from lawmakers demonstrate an almost unwavering support for a variety of themes: law and order, personal responsibility, a dislike for excuses. But those things fall away when it’s one of your own whose ox is being gored.

The first story is about the chief aide to the House Speaker. He was stopped for extreme DUI, and cocaine was even found in the car he was driving. But both Speaker Andy Tobin and former Speaker Kirk Adams stand by Victor Riches. They say they appreciate his “candor” about the 2010 incident.

Here is another story about the arrest. It quotes a criminal defense attorney who muses on the different type of treatment that differently situated defendants receive.

House Speaker Andy Tobin and former Speaker Kirk Adams

That follows on the heels of the Scott Bundgaard domestic-violence case. Laurie Roberts in the Republic writes about that again today.

As Roberts described it, the matter is “perhaps the longest misdemeanor investigation ever.” But how much more abbreviated it might have been if lawmakers decided not to throw their unwavering support behind the state senator.

Optimistic readers may hope this all signals a new openness among leaders to arguments that the facts underlying criminal charges are often complicated, and that no one should be demonized until they get their day in court.

A hopeful lot, they.

State Senator Scott Bundgaard

Dennis Burke, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona

A noteworthy opinion piece in the Arizona Daily Sun nearly slipped past me unnoticed. But it is a hopeful sign for a chronic Arizona—and national—problem.

In the op-ed, Dennis K. Burke, the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona, says that prosecutions are up on Indian reservations.

Depending on whom you ask, low prosecution rates on the reservation has been either a national embarrassment or a misunderstanding about the way things really work.

This “declination rate” (named for the fact the federal prosecutors often decline to prosecute) is being reversed, Burke said. But not before adding, right up in the second graf, “Disturbingly, this recent news coverage [on declinations] distracts from the most important public safety metric—more violent criminals are being prosecuted in Arizona Indian Country than ever before.”

Hmmm—“distracts”? The U.S. Attorney’s Office may be understandably thin-skinned about the issue. They have been hammered pretty hard on it. In fact, in January I wrote about the proliferation of stories on the topic.

I leave it to others to determine whether the heightened news coverage had any impact on shifting priorities in the prosecutor’s office. Maybe not. Of course, that would be the first time in history that the light of day hadn’t been persuasive.

Nonetheless, the list of accomplishments and initiatives Burke lists are impressive. As I did in January, I cheer those efforts, and we look forward to continued successes.

Read Dennis Burke’s complete message here.

Q: How do you get a mess of criminal-defense attorneys to call the Governor’s Office to advocate for stiffer sentences?

A: Advance a bill to her desk that pairs a reduction in penalties for DUI with a provision that largely eliminates the ability of a defendant to get a jury trial in DUI cases.

As the AP’s Paul Davenport reports here, it is unclear why the no-jury provision was added to the bill that was designed to reduce the amount of time a convicted person must use an ignition-interlock device.

Given the history of the original bill, though—written solely as a means to head off an even more defendant-friendly bill that would have reduced the interlock time even more drastically—it may just be a way to make defense lawyers pay a foot for the inch they had achieved.

But the ones I’ve spoken with have said the loss of jury trial is too great a price to pay for what they say was a reasonable interlock bill.

Because they did not just fall off the turnip truck, though, they tell me that they understand the chilly reception they would receive if a mass of them called the Governor’s Office urging a veto because their clients’ jury-trial right is sacrosanct.

Instead, they are urging her to veto because criminal sentences should remain stiff in Arizona.

Is your head spinning yet?

On this Change of Venue Friday, let’s take a look at our corrections system, through the eyes of an artist.

“It’s not just black and white” is open now through May at the ASU Art Museum in Tempe. It features the work of Gregory Sale.

As the site says:

It’s not just black and white begins with the current state of corrections in the U.S. and Arizona, most specifically Maricopa County, and continues to develop over the course of the artist’s three-month residency.

Gregory Sale. It's not just black and white. Photo by Chris Santa Maria.

The site provides some photos of the opening-night event, as well as more detail on pre-reception activities:

The Arizona State University Art Museum is on Mill Avenue at 10th Street in Tempe. Here is a map:

Have a great weekend.

Professor Carissa Hessick and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery debate criminal sentences, Feb. 14, 2011, Arizona State University

Last week, I attended a debate on criminal sentencing reform, hosted by the ASU Law School. I already posted one photo from the event.

The April issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine will contain a roundup of the debate. If you’re curious, here is the lede:

Those seeking a preview of future Arizona-centric battles over criminal sentencing reform gained some insight at a February 14 event. At the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, a debate—of sorts—was waged between law professor Carissa Hessick and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

The two advocates—Hessick resisted calling them “adversaries,” at least during the debate’s first half—came to the topic following an ample and growing history of sentencing reform struggles, both national and local.

As one state after another finds itself pinching even the slimmest of pennies, the cost of long prison incarceration has come under fire.

 

What was most struck me at the event—and likely struck many people who packed the classroom that day—was the veto power held by one person over the topic. Or, rather, by one position.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, Feb. 14, 2011, at ASU

As Professor Carissa Hessick herself said, County Attorney Bill Montgomery, an ASU Law graduate, is now one of the most powerful attorneys in the state. And there he was, in a debate on proposals to alter our sentencing structure in ways that may save the state millions of dollars, and, according to some, be more effective than our current regime.

Of course, intelligent minds may differ on matters of policy. But some minds are more crucial to a debate than others.

Even in a state where there are lead prosecutors in every county, the Maricopa County Attorney is the lion at the party. His office handles far more criminal matters than does any other county. Therefore, the beliefs held by that elected official are always at the center of any dialogue about criminal law in Arizona.

Given that, I know many were curious about the approach and the tone he would take at the debate, a debate he had proposed. Out of the gate, he found no value to the report that came out of the law school’s Public Policy Incubator Program. In fact, he gave short shrift to any lessons offered up by other jurisdictions, saying that Arizona’s border-state status makes it difficult to compare and apply other states’ methods.

That may be an entirely defensible position. But it means that the coming year or so in the sentencing dialogue will be a hard slog, rather than a collaborative effort.

But why should any topic in Arizona be otherwise?

More photos from the event are on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

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