Judge John Leonardo

Last week, Arizona got a new top prosecutor.

John Leonardo, former Superior Court Judge for Pima County, was confirmed on Friday as the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona.

Judge Leonardo had been nominated by President Barack Obama in March. The position had been open since then-U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke resigned on August 30, 2011, in the wake of the Fast & Furious gun-walking scandal. (I wrote about his resignation here.)

Some news stories on the new appointment pointed out that Judge Leonardo had dismissed an indictment brought against Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, finding it was retaliatory. Does that dismissal indicate how the new prosecutor may approach probes of the Maricopa County Sheriff? At least one news outlet suggests it does.

The Daily Star also reported on the appointment:

“U.S. Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain issued a joint statement announcing the confirmation, saying, ‘We are pleased that the Senate confirmed Judge John Leonardo to serve as U.S. Attorney.’

‘Judge Leonardo’s decade of experience on the bench and previous work in the U.S. Attorney’s Office will be strong assets as he continues his public service in this new, challenging role.’

Leonardo said in an email that the president still needs to sign his commission before he can be sworn in, which should occur next week.

‘I am very pleased and honored by the Senate confirmation … and I am looking forward to serving the people of Arizona in this new capacity.’”

So my question is: Should we at Arizona Attorney interview the newest United States Attorney for a Q&A?

We have published Q&As with a few of the recent top prosecutors—Paul Charlton and Dennis Burke.

If you do think we should interview Judge Leonardo, what questions would you like to see him answer? Post your questions in the comments below, or write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

 

Richard Zorza

Today, I commend to you a great blog and its blogger, who writes on a compelling subject, and who does so eloquently.

The writer is Richard Zorza, and his blog was brought to my attention by a good friend. It is titled “Richard Zorza’s Access to Justice Blog,” and you can read it here.

Hon. Kevin Burke

Any day of the week, he provides valuable content on one of the most pressing issues in our society. But yesterday’s lighter fare was a blog post of another variety.

In it, he reported that the American Judges Association has a new President—as associations are wont to do. This year, the new top jurist is Judge Kevin Burke, a state court judge in Hennepin County, Minnesota.

Judge Burke is reason enough for the item to come to my attention. He is a highly accomplished judge, one who is well (and often) published and who has garnered praise and awards both locally and nationally. You may read more about him here.

Here in Arizona, there’s another reason to know Judge Burke—he is brother to Dennis Burke, until this month the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona.

Dennis Burke

In his post, Richard Zorza wisely provides a link to Judge Burke’s Wikipedia entry. But that made me chuckle, because when I interviewed Dennis Burke a few years ago, he praised his brother–judge up and down, and added a smirk when he pointed out that Kevin has his own Wikipedia page. O brother—Some families are accomplished beyond belief!

Zorza’s post also alludes to a connection between chocolate and judges ruling well. In fact, Judge Burke (on his own blog!) provided his own commentary on the sugary subject.

Litigants benefit from a well-fed judge, a recent study reports.

As I read that, I looked past my computer screen to some old print ads I have framed on my wall. Once is a yellowed Kellogg’s Corn Flakes ad showing a judge chowing on the stuff in chambers. The subtitle advises, “More judges pass down a friendly verdict on Kellogg’s Corn Flakes than on any other cereal.”

Now that’s an ad.

All around an educational post, for which I thank Richard Zorza. But that makes me wonder: Are any Arizona judges blogging? I’d love to hear from them, or from those who read their pages. Contact me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

 

 

 

 

David Bodney

Please do not write to me to provide alternative names to my following statement: David Bodney is one of the nicest guys in town.

I was going to write “one of the nicest lawyers,” but that would be understating it.

Of course, I don’t know everyone, and there may well be a few folks around who are nicer than David, the managing partner of Steptoe & Johnson’s Phoenix office. But he’d give them a run for their money.

Besides his commitment to the community (which you can read about below), David’s work also makes him an unflinching advocate of the press—which I really like, for a variety of reasons. As someone who writes for a living, I like knowing that lawyers such as Bodney guard the First Amendment. And as a citizen and news-consumer, I like knowing that the Fifth Estate is permitted to do its important work, often with the help of media attorneys.

On my wall: My favorite Steve Benson cartoon

That’s what makes David’s selection for a prestigious award so perfect. On Friday, when he is handed the Valle del Sol’s 2011 Peacemaker Award, he will be moving into hallowed ranks. But that’s a berth he’s earned, and richly deserves.

(I also am pleased to see that Dennis Burke will be recognized with an award. The United States Attorney for the District of Arizona until his sudden resignation last week, he also is a very nice guy—and he was a terrific partner on the Editorial Board of Arizona Attorney Magazine. I don’t know if Dennis will be able to attend Friday’s lunch; if I were in his shoes, I’d be vacationing somewhere on the Mediterranean right about now. But special recognition, he deserves.)

I must add that Valle del Sol is a great organization, and they get added props for their Playbill design for Friday’s luncheon. Let the show begin!

I will be unable to attend on Friday, but if you see David, thank him for his work—and be sure to embarrass him by remarking what a nice guy he is!

The complete release follows. Congratulations again, David.

David Bodney to Receive Valle del Sol’s 2011 APS Peacemaker Award

(August 31, 2011, Phoenix) — Steptoe & Johnson LLP is pleased to announce that partner David Bodney will receive the 2011 APS Peacemaker Award from Valle del Sol on September 9 at the organization’s annual Profiles of Success luncheon at the Phoenix Convention Center.

“David is a community leader who significantly impacts the lives of many in a positive way by promoting peace and well-being,” said Carlos Galindo-Elvira, Valle del Sol’s Vice President of Philanthropic & Community Relations. “David’s long track record of working with organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, Children’s Action Alliance, and Endowment Board of ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunication highlights the merit of this recognition.”

Valle del Sol is one of Arizona’s leading nonprofit organizations whose mission is “inspiring positive change by investing in human services, strengthening self-sufficiency for families, and building the next generation of Latino leaders.”

Mr. Bodney has successfully defended print, broadcast and electronic media in defamation, privacy and related lawsuits in numerous federal and state courts for more than 25 years. He is the managing partner of Steptoe’s Phoenix office and serves as an adjunct faculty at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunication, where he teaches media law. Mr. Bodney is a member of the National Commission of the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee Board of Directors—Arizona Region, the past Chairman of the Board of the Children’s Action Alliance and past President of the Board of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest. He also serves on the Endowment Board of ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunication.

More information on the Profiles of Success event is here.

About Steptoe

Steptoe & Johnson LLP is an international law firm widely recognized for vigorous representation of clients before governmental agencies, successful advocacy in complex litigation and arbitration, and creative and practical advice in guiding business transactions. The firm has more than 500 lawyers and other professionals in offices in Beijing, Brussels, Century City, Chicago, London, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix and Washington. For more information, click here.

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

According to an announcement this morning from the office of the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona, U. S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke has resigned.

Ann Scheel will serve as Acting United States Attorney.

We covered U.S. Attorney Burke and his goals for the office back in January 2010. (He also is a former member of the Arizona Attorney Magazine Editorial Board.)

The Arizona Republic reported on the resignation, noting that it follows on the heels of the recent “Fast & Furious” gun scandal, which has engulfed the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives. Just today, other outlets reported that ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson had stepped down. The Washington Post reports he has been reassigned.

Republic columnist Laurie Roberts had one of the most intriguing—and quickest—commentaries on what she estimates occurred. (Though Arizona lawyer Faith Klepper has reminded me that lawyer Greg Patterson–who blogs as Espresso Pundit–predicted this back in June.)

Here is Dennis Burke’s resignation letter to President Obama (click to make it larger):

The full release is below. We’ll have more news on this as it become available.

Dennis K. Burke Resigns as U.S. Attorney for District of Arizona 

PHOENIX – Dennis Burke, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, has delivered his letter of resignation to President Obama.

In an email to staff, Burke said:

“The work in every corner of this office – your work – has been significant and impressive.  When I first came to this office a decade ago as a line AUSA (Assistant United States Attorney), I knew this was an excellent office and did important work.”

Burke added, “My long tenure in public service has been intensely gratifying.  It has also been intensely demanding.  For me, it is the right time to move on to pursue other aspects of my career and my life and allow the office to move ahead.

Burke was appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona in 2009.  His resignation is effective immediately.

Ann Scheel will serve as Acting United States Attorney, under the Vacancies Reform Act and by virtue of her position as First Assistant.  Burke added, “I thank Ann for agreeing to assume these responsibilities until the Attorney General or the President makes an interim or permanent appointment.”

RELEASE NUMBER: 2011-194(Burke)

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.

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.

“Good morning, life savers!”

If you have heard a more compelling opening to a keynote speech, I’d like to hear it.

That’s the way a conference of Drug Court experts was launched last Thursday in downtown Phoenix. When the CEO of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals rose to speak, his words went beyond the coffee-and-Danish interlude that typically slogs by interminably as attendees wait for their first session.

No, C. West Huddleston III leapt to the task, less association executive and more welcoming preacher. And as attendees heard, he’s a preacher who struggled in the darkness long before he came to the light. (I met Huddleston once before, when he came to speak to the State Bar of Arizona about veterans courts.)

Regarding substance abuse, Huddleston reminded those in the room, “You stand in the gap between many people and death from this disease.”

C. West Huddleston III, CEO, National Association of Drug Court Professionals

“Instead of indifference, you bring compassion and understanding. You see beyond the chaos and wreckage” that characterize the user’s life.

And he knows about wreckage.

Huddleston recalled how his life at 20 was spiraling out of control. In May 1988, he said he was a “hopeless addict and alcoholic.” He had been arrested six or seven times, and he was absolutely miserable. He was scheduled to begin a court-mandated rehabilitation program—but he was wavering.

That’s when the phone in his Memphis apartment rang.

It was a woman he had known since he was a young boy. The friend, Erica, was in Florida, and she and her boyfriend had a large quantity of the drug Ecstasy to distribute in Memphis. Would West be interested in this lucrative business?

His response shocked even Huddleston as the words came out of his mouth: “I’m sorry, Erica, but I can’t. I’ve got to go to treatment tonight.”

Eleven months and five days later, the then 21-year-old graduated from his program, and “It absolutely saved my life.”

The story grew more remarkable when Huddleston added that Erica had been caught in a sting; her “boyfriend” turned out to be a DEA agent. She and others who had said “Yes” to her offer were convicted and sent to prison.

U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke

“I came that close to not having this life.”

And that is what a conference about Drug Courts is about, he said: saving lives. Sessions that followed included topics like substance abuse, veterans courts, juvenile courts, Native American populations, and prisoner re-entry issues.

Re-entry was on the mind of United States Attorney Dennis Burke, who also spoke. He described a re-entry task force organized by his office that strives for original thinking on this tough topic. (Disclosure: The author has served on that task force.) When he described the task force as “a coalition of the willing,” he could have as easily been describing the conference attendees.

Hon. Robert Brutinel, Arizona Supreme Court

Arizona Supreme Court Justice Robert Brutinel also greeted the attendees. He recalled his days as a superior court judge, and the impact that he could see that his court was making in a small community. He laughed as he said he is till greeted in the supermarket with exclamations like “You’re the Drug Court Judge!” and, simply, “This man changed my life.”

“You make a difference,” Justice Brutinel told those assembled. And that said it all.

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

Suspected shooter Jared Loughner (AP photo)

The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona just announced that it has filed a federal complaint against Jared Loughner, the suspect in yesterday’s Tucson shooting. Five counts are alleged. Read the complete release below.

Office of the United States Attorney, Dennis K. Burke

District of Arizona

MEDIA ADVISORY Public Affairs

Sunday, January 09, 2011 MANNY TARANGO

Telephone: (602) 514-7456

Cell: (602) 799-8322

Federal Complaint Filed Against Jared Lee Loughner

PHOENIX – The United States Attorney for the District of Arizona, Dennis K. Burke, announced today that his office filed a federal complaint against Jared Lee Loughner. The complaint was signed by Magistrate Judge Michelle Burns in Phoenix.

Loughner is suspected of shooting U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Chief Judge John Roll, Giffords’ staff member Gabriel Zimmerman and approximately 16 others Saturday in Tucson.

The federal complaint alleges five counts against Loughner:

COUNT 1

On or about January 8, 2011, at or near Tucson, in the District of Arizona, the defendant, JARED LEE LOUGHNER, did attempt to kill Gabrielle Giffords, a Member of Congress; in violation of Title 18, United States Code Section 351(c).

COUNT 2

On or about January 8, 2011, at or near Tucson, in the District of Arizona, the defendant, JARED LEE LOUGHNER, did unlawfully kill Gabriel Zimmerman, an employee of the United States who was engaged in performance of official duties and who was assisting Member of Congress Gabrielle Giffords while she was engaged in performance of official duties; in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1114 and 1111.

COUNT 3

On or about January 8, 2011, at or near Tucson, in the District of Arizona, the defendant, JARED LEE LOUGHNER, did unlawfully kill John M. Roll, a United States District Court Judge for the District of Arizona, an employee of the United States who was engaged in performance of official duties; in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1114 and 1111.

COUNT 4

On or about January 8, 2011, at or near Tucson, in the District of Arizona, the defendant, JARED LEE LOUGHNER, did, with intent to kill, attempt to kill Pamela Simon, an employee of the United States who was engaged in performance of official duties and who was assisting Member of Congress Gabrielle Giffords while she was engaged in performance of official duties; in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1114 and 1113.

COUNT 5

On or about January 8, 2011, at or near Tucson, in the District of Arizona, the defendant, JARED LEE LOUGHNER, did, with intent to kill, attempt to kill Ron Barber, an employee of the United States who was engaged in performance of official duties and who was assisting Member of Congress Gabrielle Giffords while she was engaged in performance of official duties; in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1114 and 1113.

Defendant Loughner will make an initial appearance on the complaint at 3 p.m. Monday January 10, 2011 in front of Magistrate Judge Lawrence Anderson at the Sandra Day O’Connor Courthouse in Phoenix in courtroom 302. He is entitled to a preliminary hearing and detention hearing. The court will set a date for both hearings. Loughner remains in federal custody.

The Rules of Criminal Procedure require that a grand jury review the evidence and issue an indictment within 30 days of the defendant’s initial appearance.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona is in the process of drafting an indictment against Loughner for presentation to the grand jury.

RELEASE NUMBER: 2011-003( Loughner)

# # #

For more information on the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona, visit http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/az/

We just got news of some praiseworthy work Arizona lawyers have done. And given the fields they toil in, let’s hope it’s a precursor to more positive change.

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

The news came out of the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona. There, eight employees were honored with national awards, given last Wednesday.

As the press release begins, “Eight employees from the Office of the United States Attorney, District of Arizona, have been selected as recipients of the 2010 Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) Director’s Awards. These eight employees represent the highest number of awardees in one year for the District of Arizona.  The awards reflect the top priorities in the District for border security, drug trafficking on Indian County and mortgage fraud.”

Honored were Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shelley Clemens, Marnie Hodahkwen, Joe Lodge, Nicole Savel, Sharon Sexton, John Tuchi, Kevin Rapp and Brian Larson.

U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke is rightly proud of his staffers’ accomplishments. These honors are coveted, and it’s great to have Arizona lawyering recognized on a national stage.

You can read the complete release below. (Read the complete list of honorees here.)

It is especially noteworthy that the majority of attorneys receiving accolades are being honored for “Superior Performance in Indian Country.”

The high crime rate and lack of prosecution on Indian reservations has been a serious problem for quite awhile. In fact, few could argue with the fact that the persistence of the problem is a national embarrassment.

Just this past September, an Arizona Republic news story by Dennis Wagner examined the intractable problem of high crime and “declinations” to prosecute—usually due to a lack of evidence, which relates to “convoluted jurisdictional boundaries, insufficient funds for training, and distrust and limited communication between federal and tribal investigators.” Add to that abysmally low police staffing, and you have a problem that many would prefer to keep from the public’s eye.

Today’s newspaper provided another glimpse into the ongoing problem. It reported that half of all crimes committed on Indian land go unprosecuted.

Half.

In places where crime is more than twice the national average. Where more than one in three Native American women are raped sometime during their lives.

It boggles the mind. Can we imagine any other place in the 50 states where such a chronic situation would be allowed to exist for generations?

The story today reports that Arizona and South Dakota account for about half the cases that all federal prosecutors receive annually.

“What’s most disconcerting about these [declination] numbers is that they probably don’t even tell the full story,” said Katy Jackman, staff attorney at the National Congress of American Indians. “What they do confirm is, as we’ve known for some time, that declination rates in Indian country are a major problem.”

Some optimistic news comes out of these numbers, however. Data show that federal prosecutors in Arizona declined “only” 38 percent of the Indian land cases sent to them, whereas prosecutors in South Dakota declined to prosecute 61 percent. (It does not report whether our state is on an upward or a downward trend.)

Congratulations to the prosecutors who have worked hard to develop strategies that make our state safer. The attention that U.S. Attorney Burke and his prosecutors have given to reservation crime is a welcome sign that they are committed to addressing an epidemic that has too much become an accepted commonplace.

We’re looking forward to more positive stories about significant advances in safety and justice, especially on Indian reservations. For as all great prosecutors know, the legacy of their work’s effectiveness is cast most indelibly not in places where TV cameras reach easily. It is sealed in the trust of the most vulnerable—who until now have learned that they are largely on their own when it comes to justice.

Here is the press release.

Eight Members of Arizona’s U.S. Attorney’s Office Honored

Employees to receive prestigious Director’s Awards; reflect top priorities of District

PHOENIX—Eight employees from the Office of the United States Attorney, District of Arizona, have been selected as recipients of the 2010 Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) Director’s Awards.

These eight employees represent the highest number of awardees in one year for the District of Arizona.  The awards reflect the top priorities in the District for border security, drug trafficking on Indian County and mortgage fraud.

“Over the past 14 months, the District has focused on expanding security beyond our border back into Mexico and blocking drug trafficking from bleeding into Indian Country,” said Dennis K. Burke, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona.  “We’ve also aggressively targeted the mortgage fraudsters who aided and abetted the decimation of home values in Arizona.”

The employees received their awards from Attorney General Eric Holder at a ceremony December 8 in Washington, D.C.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shelley Clemens, Marnie Hodahkwen, Joe Lodge, Nicole Savel, Sharon Sexton and John Tuchi will receive the award for Superior Performance in Indian Country.  This team was nominated for development of a comprehensive Indian Country Public Safety program that serves as a model for other Districts across the United States.

The team developed several successful initiatives this year, including joint federal-tribal investigations into drug distribution organizations on four different reservations across Arizona.  The effort has resulted in more than 50 indictments to date.

Kevin Rapp will receive the award for Superior Performance as an Assistant United States Attorney-Criminal.  Rapp was nominated for his excellent work in the mortgage fraud case of the U.S. v Bernadel, et al.

His work in the case resulted in the conviction of eight defendants in a nearly $10 million dollar mortgage scheme.  The lead defendant in the case received a nearly 17-year prison sentence.

The case has been used as a national model for successful mortgage fraud prosecution.  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has frequently cited the Bernadel case as an example of the successful efforts by the Department of Justice to combat mortgage fraud.

Brian Larson will also receive an award for Superior Performance as an Assistant United States Attorney-Criminal.  Brian was nominated for his outstanding work to further the mission of the first-ever Rule of Law Group in the District of Arizona and the Department of Justice on the southwest border.

Larson has coordinated and conducted training of Mexican prosecutors and investigators in Sonora as part of the “Rule of Law” outreach.  His work has been instrumental in developing cooperative law enforcement relationships with prosecutors and investigators throughout Mexico, and in coordinating prosecution of some of the most high profile drug trafficking cases in the District of Arizona.

“The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona has done more to prosecute border crimes, crimes in Indian Country and mortgage fraud than any other District in the country,” said Burke.  “These award winners exemplify that leadership and are a testament to how we lead the nation.”

The Director’s Awards are nation-wide awards through which the Attorney General honors the employees of the 93 United States Attorneys’ Offices and EOUSA, as well as other individuals, who have supported the mission of these offices and distinguished themselves through extraordinary professional achievements and excellence.

Tonight, the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona is hosting an event that may be worth attending. And some may be surprised it’s being held at all.

It is the second in a series of Community Civil Rights Forums that U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke is holding. (The first was held on July 6, and we wrote about it the next day.)

Tonight’s event is billed as a forum with Arizona’s gay community. The news peg is the anniversary of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

(This forum is scheduled the same day that we learned the U.S. Attorney’s Office is investigating allegations of misconduct against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. No shrinking violets, these prosecutors.)

Did you think that Obama administration officials would lay low until after the November elections? Burke’s committing to a forum on gay civil rights may be a fly in that political ointment. (Perhaps they predicted that it was going to be a rocky month at the ballots for them—no matter what they did.)

Dennis Burke, United States Attorney for the District of Arizona

Of course, it’s true that Burke’s topic of “hate crimes” seeks to keep tonight’s conversation narrowly focused. But announcing an event with the words “gay” and “civil rights” in the same sentence could be felt like a sharp stick in the eye to certain portions of Arizona’s conservative populace.

And he may not get much love from the other side, either. The gay, lesbian and transgender community supported this administration, and probably still does. But their support has tempered over the past year and a half as they saw the president take what they view as half measures and tentative steps toward their positions.

They had hoped for Obama’s full-throated support, and got quite a bit less.

Will anyone at tonight’s event press the speakers on things like civil unions, or “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”? Activists nationally have been vocal in asking about what they see as an unequal timeline on a path toward equal civil rights. Will they be vocal tonight?

Of course, the President won’t be at the Mercado tonight; Dennis Burke will. Continued props to him for fostering an ongoing conversation about civil rights in the United States. But how wide-ranging will that conversation be?

Unfortunately, I have a conflict and cannot attend. If anyone reading this plans to be there, please contact me (at arizona.attorney@azbar.org) tomorrow—I’d like to hear how it went. And if you take photos, even better!

Here is the complete release.

U.S. ATTORNEY TO HOLD CIVIL RIGHTS FORUM WITH GAY COMMUNITY

Forum on hate crimes law to occur on anniversary of Matthew Shepard attack

PHOENIX – United States Attorney Dennis K. Burke will hold a Civil Rights Forum focused on the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community Wednesday October 6, 2010 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.  It will be at the ASU Mercado in downtown Phoenix.  The public is encouraged to attend.

At the forum, Burke will talk about the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act signed into law last year by President Barack Obama.  He will also discuss how victims can report hate crimes and official police misconduct.   

The date of the forum coincides with the anniversary of the fatal attack on gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard.  He was brutally beaten and tortured after meeting two men in a Laramie, Wyoming bar late on the night of October 6, 1998 and died days later.  Shepard was targeted because of his sexual orientation.

“We hold community sessions like this to inform people of their rights,” said Burke.  “The Department of Justice has a duty to protect the civil rights of all individuals from hate crimes or law enforcement misconduct.  I feel strongly people should have confidence to report violations to this office.”

The forum will bring together local community leaders, the U.S. Attorney and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to discuss the Department of Justice’s role in civil rights matters.  For more information on the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona, visit http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/az/.

WHAT:  Civil Rights Forum focused on the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

WHO:  U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Dennis K. Burke, FBI representatives and local community leaders.

WHEN:  Wednesday, October 6, 2010 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.  Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

WHERE: ASU Mercado, Room C-145, 502 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix.

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