July 2011

I would like to tell you that when I read a news story about rancid meat and jails, I did not immediately think of Arizona.

Of course, I have a commitment to honesty to readers, so I cannot do that.

But as I scanned this story out of New York City, I did find reason—small—to cheer. But first, the story.

I have never visited the jail at Rikers Island, but I have watched a lot of Law & Orders, so I can’t say I was surprised when I saw that facility connected to 65,000 pounds of spoiled meat.

As the story says, jail officials realized that the refrigeration had been off for days. So the contents were “off” too. But at least one of the leaders thought the problem could be solved with some spices.

(Hint to the wise: Do NOT search Google for “Rikers Island meat.”)

How many of us immediately think of the Seinfeld episode where a character remembers with horror his hubris as a young Army cook? Thinking he could salvage meat that was turning, he spiced and spiced—and made his entire unit sick.

Apparently, he has a future in corrections kitchens.

And of course, Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s green bologna came to mind too. Because serving past-its-prime meat to jail inmates is not just something that happens in the Bronx. They have a lot to learn from the Grand Canyon State and Maricopa County.

Enough of that. I had promised you news that cheered me. Well, here it is:

In 115 comments that followed the story, not one—NOT ONE!—mentions Arizona and Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s notorious bologna.

In what passes for progress in Arizona’s national reputation, that fact cheers me.

And on an even more more uplifting note, I steer you toward another story, this one about the bread-baking inmates at Rikers.

As the article opens:

“Each morning, and again in the afternoon, the blades of three bread-slicing machines are counted carefully. Only then does the bakery let workers go home — to their jail cells on Rikers Island.

“Twenty inmates at one of the largest jail complexes in the United States are part of a team that bakes 36,000 loaves of bread a week to feed the city’s entire prison population — about 13,000 people. Employees in orange-and-white-striped jumpsuits and surgical caps earn $31 a week churning out whole-wheat bread. There’s not an apron in sight.”

Freshly made bread leaves the oven along a conveyer belt at the Rikers Island bakery. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

Skip the protein, stick to the carbs.


Everett Dirksen

“A billion here, a billion there. Pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

Illinois senator Everett Dirksen may or may not have uttered that pithy phrase. But either way, it came to mind as I read the news yesterday afternoon that a jury had returned a $10 million verdict against Taser International.

Even in today’s inflated world, I think of that as a lot of money. And so I expected pretty solid coverage of the jury’s decision.

I needed that because I wanted to link to the news on the brand-new Arizona Attorney Magazine News Center. Taser’s an Arizona company, they came up on the short end of a legal case, it all made newsy sense.

But as I searched for a solid story on it, all I came up with were … company press releases.

The first link I saw came from a respected business weekly. The headline about $10 million grabbed me. But the story sounded like Taser’s PR department had penned it. It appeared to be factual, but the entire focus was on the number of jury verdicts they have won, and on the plaintiff arguments that the jury rejected.

Hmm, I thought. There has to be something better out there.

But after about 30 minutes of searching, I’ve come across the same release about 20 times, all posted as news by multiple publishers. I really have to hand it to Taser’s web-optimization people.

This occurred the same day that news-ish mogul Rupert Murdoch was hammered with a cream pie as he testified to Parliament. We here in the States appear to take great pride in the assertion that journalists here would never engage in such phone-hacking behavior.

Rupert Murdoch's hit a bad patch.

I think they’re right. But our web-ified news regime deserves a cream pie of its own. Passing off press releases as news was considered poor form even before the Internet. But the Web has intensified the scramble for content. And corporate PR mills appear happy to fill the gap.

As for linking to the story, I’ve decided to wait 24 hours. I’m sure I’ll find something of value tomorrow. It’ll keep.

Just as sports fans eagerly await baseball’s opening day—the crack of the bat, the crunch of the popcorn—lawyers gaze spellbound toward this Wednesday. For that is when an annual migration culminates, when our rafters and shelves are filled with the newborn, the fledgling.

On Wednesday, hundreds of new laws take effect. 357, to be exact.

A profession beams with pride as it leans over the bassinet, also known as the Arizona Revised Statutes. The nascent laws, recently no more than a few bills among many, squirm and squeeze their little fists, yearning to be fully formed.

Their creators apparently decided that the new laws’ older siblings were insufficient to the many tasks at hand. And so the nursery is full.

The laws about to become effective include a wide variety of topics. As the story says:

“The laws cover a broad spectrum of topics, from ensuring homeowners-association meetings are open to residents and giving married couples preference in adoptions to restricting charitable donations to groups that support abortion and requiring schools to develop bullying policies.

“Dozens of the bills target public-safety issues, toughening penalties for sex crimes against children, raising fees for writing a bad check, paying inmates more for hard labor and creating new crimes surrounding human smuggling.”

Just blow: Ignition-interlock device

Among the many new laws is one in regard to DUI charges and the right to a jury trial. I wrote about that before. (This one, though, has a delayed effective date until Jan. 1, 2012.)

As this news story says, there was an effort to head this law off at the pass, but it failed to garner enough signatures. We will watch this topic over the coming year as the inevitable court challenge is filed.

In the meantime, welcome to the newest toddling laws. Cigars, anyone?

This past week, the State Bar of Arizona—and I—were pleased to announce the launch of the Arizona Attorney Magazine News Center. It is your online portal to legal news from the state and the world. It also includes video and a growing network of bloggers who are Arizona lawyers.

All of the stories and links are selected daily in-house. So if you want to see more (or less) of something, write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org. And do the same if you’d like your blog listed; we include your link and photo, and you can watch your traffic build.

Some of you know that the site has been live for just over a month, but we wanted to be sure it all works and works well. Now, we share it with the world!

Click here to read the entire press release.

And—more important—click here to go to the News Center, where you can bookmark it or get our RSS feed.

It’s easy to remember! azbar.org/newscenter

My lighthouse: Office art ... or life's ambition?

Oh, Change of Venue Friday: What took you so long?

Today’s the day I take a more relaxed look at the world. A day beyond pin-stripes, we might call it.

And the view I’m getting is one from the top of a lighthouse.

Yes, a lighthouse.

Like many people, I’ve always enjoyed seeing those beacons, whether they’re in chilly New England or on the sun-dappled California coast. So impressed am I by their utility, beauty and tendency toward solitude that a cardboard version adorns a high shelf in my office. It was a gift from my family, who appreciates—to an extent—the personality qualities that would admire a life of windswept aloneness.

Adding to the fantasy is the fact that it need not be fantasy: As my wife just pointed out to me, the federal government routinely disposes of lighthouses, making them available to the highest bidder. They dot the nation, so whatever your heart’s desire—drizzly and snowy or balmy and humid—there may be a lighthouse for you.

Below are a few images of what’s been sold recently. And if you’re interested, bookmark here to keep track of what may become your own retirement villa.

Have a great weekend.

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In good times and bad—especially in bad—nothing appears to animate elected officials more than stories regarding the sinful pleasures, whether they are drunk, smoked or otherwise ingested.

A glaring example of that is in medical marijuana, which has gripped Arizona headlines for months now. (Contributing to that coverage, Arizona Attorney Magazine’s cover feature for July/August will be the fight over that medicinal weed.)

But at least that fight is over an actual controversy, as leaders try to determine what’s legal and what’s not in a state–federal tussle.

More odd is what’s going on in Minnesota. There, state government has ground to a halt because of lawmakers’ inability to agree on a budget. As a result, many services that state residents count on daily are now unavailable.

Including the renewal of liquor licenses.

As the story says:

“Hundreds of bars, restaurants and stores across Minnesota are running out of beer and alcohol and others may soon run out of cigarettes — a subtle and largely unforeseen consequence of a state government shutdown.

“In the days leading up to the shutdown, thousands of outlets scrambled to renew their state-issued liquor purchasing cards. Many of them did not make it.

“Now, with no end in sight to the shutdown, they face a summer of fast-dwindling alcohol supplies and a bottom line that looks increasingly bleak.”

“The state has stopped issuing the tax stamps that distributors must glue to the bottom of every pack before it’s sold for retail.”

Read the complete story here.

Ari Mlnarik, left, served a beer at the Ugly Mug, a bar in downtown Minneapolis

A tale of unintended consequences, certainly. But what’s surprising is the reaction of lawmakers, whose unwillingness to coalesce is causing problems huge and small for the state.

One legislator even urged the governor—of the other political party—to use his executive powers to allow alcohol sales to continue.

It is the rare occurrence that you will find a politician recommending that his political opponent assert broad powers. Health care? Jobs? Unemployment coverage? No, no, no. But smokes and drinks? That brings the parties together.

Here in Arizona, the Corporation Commission has been plunged into its own form of reefer madness, with the discovery of some pot leaves in a bathroom shared by a group of people. The result is that Commission Chair Gary Pierce has requested that drug-sniffing dogs be brought in to try to locate the source of the illegal substance.

It was reported that the Republican members of the ACC have agreed to have their offices sniffed. The Democratic members have not yet agreed to do that.

We grow used to partisan sniping in many levels of government. But the ACC was always a reliable government powerhouse, wielding enormous power and influence without shouting headlines. Sure, politics do matter where utilities and other resources are concerned. But the ACC has always maintained a rather egg-heady and admirable focus on the details of the matters before them. Politics were whispered rather than hollered.

Here’s looking forward to getting back to some of that. And here’s hoping that public agencies and public officers look to become more like the storied ACC. If the reverse occurs and we are left with an openly partisan ACC that follows the vitriolic route of others, residents will have one more reason to doubt the results that emerge from a government chamber.

New York Stock Exchange (Reuters)

Today, I came across a terrific photo collection of American flags. The array displays a few of the ways the iconic tricolor has been used. There may be no more recognizable symbol in the world. But like all such symbols, it can be used to unite or to divide.

That is made very clear in the insightful photo array. Click here to see all the images.

The photos were selected by writer Conor Friedersdorf, an associate editor at The Atlantic who writes about politics and national affairs. He is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, “a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.” Follow him on Twitter.

An opponent of the World Economic Forum wraps herself in the American flag outside the meeting of world business leaders in New York. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

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