Panelists of "Lawyering Political Environment," June 19, 2013

Panelists of “Lawyering in a Political Environment,” June 19, 2013

The State Bar Convention offers a multitude of learning opportunities. But I’m only one guy, so I opted to attend a morning seminar titled “Lawyering in a Political Environment.” It was deemed a President’s Award winner, and it seemed a good way to start my own 2013 Convention experience.

L to R: Kelly Schwab, Joe Kanefield

L to R: Kelly Schwab, Joe Kanefield

Here’s what I discovered: The first seminar in the first day of the annual State Bar Convention largely had to do with a lawyer who had been disbarred by the State Bar. Quite a morning. But in that regard, the educational offering was probably unique among seminars that could be offered at bar conferences nationwide. Arizona is an interesting place.

The conversation was far ranging, but panelists and their moderator Robert Robb found themselves, more often than not, addressing ethical challenges created by former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas—now disbarred. And because of that, the seminar was a timely and relevant presentation to a packed house of attorneys who had learned firsthand about the risks of blending law and politics.

The panel was a powerhouse one:

  • Former United States Attorney Paul Charlton
  • Former Governor’s Counsel Joe Kanefield
  • Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery
  • Former Pinal County Attorney Jim Walsh
  • Attorney Kelly Schwab

Robb asked panelists to offer their general views about lawyering in a public setting.

Paul Charlton opened by saying that “Public service is a noble enterprise. Every day your one, monolithic goal is to give back.”

L to R: Robert Robb. Jim Walsh, Paul Charlton

L to R: Robert Robb, Jim Walsh, Paul Charlton

He continued by discussing his most difficult decision as United States Attorney—one that had career-changing implications.

“My most difficult decision? Whether to seek the death penalty.”

Charlton made a choice that did not square with the thinking of the United States Attorney General and so, he said, “I got fired for it.”

“How do you deal with those who take a political view of the world, or with those who think the death penalty should be sought—not pursued—in every situation?”

Bill Montgomery stepped into an office in which the top prosecutor had made politicizing legal decisions the norm. Montgomery says his focus has been on changing that atmosphere.

“It’s about knowing what’s right and wrong, not what’s right and left.”

Joe Kanefield recalled the biggest challenge faced by lawyers in state government: “resisting pressure to pursue legal remedies for political challenges.”

Moderator Robb asked the panel if elected attorneys are “special” because they serve voters first.

“Andy Thomas thought he was special,” said Robb. “But who is the client? Should the criminal and civil functions be separated” to reduce the possibility of overreaching?

No, said Charlton. “I’d say that’s a solution in search of a problem,” because instances like that are rare, “except that we do have Andrew Thomas in our recent history.”

“But that was an aberration,” he continued. “Though it was awful for anyone caught in Thomas’ crosshairs,” the legal community generally “catches” such behavior before it becomes egregious.

Robb kept the focus on specifics when spoke about Bill Montgomery’s recent legal advice to County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox that she had a conflict in regard to the county’s civil suit involving Sheriff Joe Arpaio. But the focus remained on a former prominent attorney.

Charlton said, “It was right to go after Andrew Thomas; it was right to take his license.”

L to R: Paul CHarlton, Bill Montgomery, Kelly Schwab

L to R: Paul Charlton, Bill Montgomery, Kelly Schwab

The whirlwind seminar included conversation about prosecutions of former Congressman Rick Renzi, Senator Ted Stevens, major league ballplayer Roger Clemens and others. And it extended beyond the practical challenges that prosecutors—especially elected prosecutors—face daily. It winded up with a discussion of possible changes to the Ethical Rules to accommodate the unique situations they may face. And at least one panelist recommended that young line prosecutors need a place to turn when challenges arise.

“We used to call them an ombudsman,” said Jim Walsh. “But whatever they’re called, we need someone in prosecutor offices that those attorneys can go to” when they develop the sense they are being asked to do questionable things to further political ends.

ASU Law Journal for Social Justice logoToday, some news from a noteworthy journal at the ASU College of Law:

“On March 1, join the Law Journal for Social Justice for a daylong symposium featuring attorneys, judges, community advocates, and legal scholars as we examine how to transform an inherently unfair criminal justice system into one that values fairness and efficiency.”

“Featured speaker Paul Charlton, former U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, leads off the day with a discussion about ethics and sentencing reform. Other panel topics include vulnerable populations in the criminal justice system, the mental health crisis within the criminal justice system and ways to reform the system in a more fair and efficient way.”

More information on speakers, the agenda and a link to register are here.

And be sure to follow the journal on Facebook here.

ASU Justice conference March 2013 agenda and poster

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.

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