June 2011

Tuesday evening saw 2011’s version of what has become a noteworthy legal event for Arizona. That was the reception honoring the lawyers who were counsel in the cases that garnered the Top 10 Civil Verdicts moniker, as published in our June Arizona Attorney Magazine.

Lawers from this year's Top 10 Civil Verdicts. Our author Kelly MacHenry, a trial lawyer herself, is seated in the front row.

Hosted at Snell & Wilmer by partner and litigator Kelly MacHenry, the event brings together those trial lawyers, as well as those who won significant defense verdicts in cases where claimed damages were high.

I wrote about this event last year, and one thing makes the event better with every passing June.

The characteristic that marks the evening and makes it a must-attend event is not the wonderful food or the plush digs, both of which are great every time. The true value of the gathering lies in the remarks by the trial lawyers themselves. For after Kelly describes each case and hands the lawyers their certificates, they get the opportunity to share something about the case—what element was decisive, any aha moments that were milestones, what witness or piece of evidence was key to their success.

It is a pleasure and a surprise for me every year how open and expressive the honorees are in response to Kelly’s invitation to share some of their trial strategies—or moments of great good luck! People whose livelihood is ensuring a good outcome for their clients in a courtroom often relax into a discussion of the moment when it all came together—or when it looked like it was all going to hell in a handbasket.

Huge Arizona Attorney cover-photo appears dwarfed by photograph from Snell & Wilmer's art collection.

I told the attendees why the issue is one of my favorites throughout the year: I enjoy hearing what Arizona juries are doing and what trends the verdicts may reflect. But I also enjoy the successes and stories of trial lawyers. Although a huge part of their job is preparation, at the end of the day, they must act decisively even when surprises arise.

If you are comfortable only when you have your belt and suspenders firmly cinched up, litigating may not be the venue for you.

I also have to single Kelly MacHenry out for praise. She brings to a thankful magazine the complete package: She writes extremely well, she’s laser-focused on accuracy, she meets deadlines—and she’s super-smart! If any potential authors out there embody even one of these qualities, I’d be happy to work with you on an article. If you bring all four—you’ve made my month! Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Congratulations to all the lawyers and their amazing trial teams. And thanks to Kelly for phenomenal writing and idea generation.

Click here to see some more pictures on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

And here is the list of honorees (in alphabetical order):

What’s the best antidote to the slow stew you feel when your desk is overloaded and there’s no end in sight?

Get up from your desk, of course. Leave the office. And volunteer at an event hosted by the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education.

That’s exactly what I did last Thursday, and I’m still living off the residual good karma.

We the People is an incredible program in which schoolkids demonstrate their grasp of difficult, thorny constitutional issues. It requires months of study and teamwork, and it culminates in front of mock panels of Congressional leaders. That’s where I and others come in.

But those amazing performances are preceded by some pretty impressive foundational work by their teachers. In fact, to have your class take part in the grueling competition, the schoolteachers have to go through it themselves first.

That’s what last week was about. We Congress-folk listened, cajoled and questioned the teachers, who had spent a lot of their free time learning what We the People takes. And they were terrific.

Their performance makes me look forward even more to the school year, when some of the best of Arizona’s youth will show their chops in regard to the U.S. Constitution.

Thanks to the Foundation for letting a law geek like me take part. As always, it was a privilege.

Click here to see some more pictures on the Arizona Attorney Magazine facebook page.

A news release from the State Bar of Arizona yesterday warns lawyers—and others—about a scam that comes, goes, and is back again.

As the Bar’s Rick DeBruhl describes it, the scam leads the unwary into sending money directly into the hands of criminals. The Bar has warned about this in the past, but it bears repeating.

Here is the beginning of the news item. Read the complete piece here.

A Scam Aimed at Stealing Money from Lawyers is Surging Through Arizona Again

By Rick DeBruhl, Chief Communications Officer
June 27, 2011

“While the details vary, the basics remain the same. Sometimes the lawyer is contacted by someone who claims to want representation (often it involves a divorce or business settlement). At the beginning of the relationship, the lawyer is sent a check from the alleged client as a retainer. Shortly after the check has been deposited the client explains that he needs a portion or all of the money returned (sometimes because the bogus case “settled” before the lawyer had a chance to take action). The lawyer dutifully returns the money, only to find out that the original check has bounced and now the bank wants the funds returned. …”

The complete release is here.

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in two combined Arizona cases, which together comprise what we’d call the Clean Elections case.

As SCOTUSBlog originally announced (and the ABA Journal passed on), the 5–4 decision found the Arizona law an unconstitutional infringement of free speech.

Here are the opinion and dissent (in PDF).

I have not yet read the opinion, so I cannot tell if it relied on any of the arguments stated in a pro–con on the topic we ran in the November 2010 Arizona Attorney Magazine.

But I would be curious about one thing: How many of the Court’s opinions or dissents through history have used the word “chutzpah,” as Justice Kagan did in her dissent:

This suit … may merit less attention than any challenge to a speech subsidy ever seen in this Court. In the usual First Amendment subsidy case, a person complains that the government declined to finance his speech, while bankrolling someone else’s. … But the candidates bringing this challenge do not make that claim—because they were never denied a subsidy. Arizona, remember, offers to support any person running for state office. Petitioners here refused that assistance. So they are making a novel argument: that Arizona violated their First Amendment rights by disbursing funds to other speakers even though they could have received (but chose to spurn) the same financial assistance. Some people might call that chutzpah.

This case, and the Court’s other recent campaign-funding jurisprudence, means one thing for sure: We will be covering the topic in future issues.

It is Change of Venue Friday, when we take a well-earned rest from the veddy veddy serious business of law practice to muse upon something a bit lighter.

Today’s idea comes to me via my boss, Rick DeBruhl. As the Chief Communications Officer of the State Bar of Arizona, he is responsible for big ideas, big branding, big communicating.

That’s why his being the source of this idea—lawyer license plates—is so surprising.

Using his cellphone, he sent me a few pictures while we were both in Tucson at the annual Bar Convention. He was strolling through the attendee parking lot (thinking Big Thoughts, for sure) when he spotted these two metallic examples of lawyer marketing.

Then, this morning, as I drove to work in Phoenix, I was roused from my drowsiness by the court order that graced an SUV license plate ahead of me.

Very funny, all. If you want to send me any other examples of street-view communications, write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Have a great weekend.

We’ve all become accustomed to sifting through nearly incomprehensible news stories about complex financial crimes. They usually involve hedge funds, offshore accounts and other economic tomfoolery that most of us can only marvel at.

But every now and then, a good old-fashioned crime story comes along that we can all sink our teeth into. And one of those happened yesterday.

It was reported that James “Whitey” Bulger was arrested in Santa Monica, Calif. His crimes were of the decidedly non-yawn-inducing variety: He was sought in connection with up to 21 murders in the 1970s and 1980s.

Read the story here.

So rip-roaring was this criminal’s (excuse me, suspect’s) yarn that when acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorcese looked around for a compelling story, Bulger’s came to the fore. Out of his own brand of domestic terrorism, we got the admirable movie “The Departed.”

James J. Bulger in 1959, Alcatraz

Adding to the intrigue was the fact that the FBI, which will get attaboys for catching someone who has been on the lam for a decade, also was harshly criticized for their own cozy relationship with the accused murderer. In fact, it was a former Boston FBI agent who tipped off Bulger back in 1995 that he was about to be indicted that caused him to amscray; and that agent was later convicted of second-degree murder for other tipoffs he gave Bulger that led to killings. Ludlum and Turow couldn’t do much better than that.

Not enough to draw you in? Try this: His younger brother is William M. Bulger, a former President of the Massachusetts State Senate and the University of Massachusetts.

A sidebar to this tale comes from the Los Angeles Times, which asks, “Is ‘Whitey’ Bulger OC’s elderly bandit?”

The 2005 story was one of a string of possible Bulger sightings; time and evidence will tell whether he robbed Orange County banks. Clearly, the economy has forced many retirees to continue to toil at their lifelong profession.

Having lived in Orange County and enjoyed the L.A. area, I chuckle a bit at the specter of an old mobster living out his golden years amidst the sun, surf and celebrity. Finally, it appears, his relaxation plans have been put on hold. Congratulations to the FBI.

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

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