A Wednesday event brings a figure of international renown to Phoenix—and with it, a pointed voice of opposition.
At the Sandra Day O’Connor Federal Courthouse, former United States Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will speak at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute event. The keynote speaker has been involved in controversial legal matters, and it appears the local Caucus representative and Phoenix chapter president of the CHCI Alumni Association, attorney Juan Rocha, is prepared to address a number of those issues, as he wrote to me, “In so many words, I plan to ask him questions about national security, executive power, et cetera—which are highly relevant today.”
You can read more about the event here.
As the Caucus Facebook page describes the speaker:
“Attorney General Gonzales is the first Hispanic to be named United States Attorney General. From 2005 to 2007, he served as Attorney General Under President George W. Bush. Before his appointment as the country’s top lawyer, Attorney General Gonzales led the White House Office of Legal Counsel. Prior to serving in the White House, he was a partner at the international law firm of Vinson and Elkins, in Houston, Texas, and later served as a Texas Supreme Court Justice. Attorney General Gonzales will discuss national security, executive power, and Latinos in the legal profession, among other topics.”
To recall a few of the reasons that General Gonzales is a controversial choice, you might read this or many articles on his tenure.
Soon after getting the event notice, I was copied on a letter of complaint from attorney Chris Ford, on behalf of the Executive Committee of the Central Arizona Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. It opens:
“I write on behalf of the Executive Committee of the Central Arizona Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which urges you to withdraw your invitation to Alberto Gonzales to speak at your event scheduled for February 26, 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona, ‘A Conversation with former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.’ Alberto Gonzales presided over a truly shameful period at the Justice Department, employing contrived legal positions to justify the use of torture on wartime captives; expansion of secret overseas prisons where torture was carried out; and domestic surveillance that since his tenure has mushroomed to truly astonishing, police-state proportions.1 Moreover, Gonzales resigned in disgrace in 2007, leaving behind a Justice Department whose mission was blurred by partisan politics.2 As further explained below, Alberto Gonzales is not a legitimate choice for speaker at an event put on by a group whose trademarked slogan is ‘Developing the Next Generation of Latino Leaders.’”
“Gonzales was a primary architect of what history likely will record as the U.S. Government’s worst and most destructive foreign policy failure: the abandonment of the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War and the resort to torture of prisoners in blatant violation of that Convention and of international law.3”
1 See, e.g. Dan Eggen and Michael A. Fletcher, Embattled Gonzales Resigns, Washington Post, Aug. 27, 2007, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2007/08/27/AR2007082700372.html; Aaron Sankin, Daniel Ellsberg On NSA Spying: ‘We’re A Turnkey Away From A Police State,’ The Huffington Post, June 12, 2013, at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/12/daniel-ellsberg-nsa-spying_n_3429694.html (“foundation has been set” for police state; “It could happen overnight”).
2 Dan Eggen and Michael A. Fletcher, supra note 1; Steven Lee Myers and Philip Shenon, Embattled Attorney General Resigns, New York Times, August 27, 2007, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/27/AR2007082700372.html.
3 Dan Eggen and Michael A. Fletcher, supra note 1; Alberto R. Gonzales, Memorandum to the President, January 25, 2002, at http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB127/02.01.25.pdf.
(I have pasted in below images of the five-page letter.)
I contacted the Caucus in Washington, seeking their response to this letter of opposition. Spokesman Scott Gunderson Rosa pointed me to a letter of response sent by Juan Rocha. Here is the text of his complete letter (I’ve also pasted in an image of it below):
“On behalf of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) and the CHCI Alumni Association (CHCI-AA) of Phoenix, AZ Alumni Chapter, we appreciate your concerns about our event with former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.”
“Though we understand your opposition to Mr. Gonzales and his tenure as U.S. Attorney General; however, CHCl is nevertheless committed to the open discussion and dialogue of ideas and opinions. Just last year, we hosted author and writer, Junot Diaz, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his stories on multiculturalism. Indeed, our lecture series is meant to stimulate thought and discussion, regardless of the speaker. Moreover, CHCI, as you know, is a non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization; as such, our sponsoring this event is in no way an endorsement of the views, opinions, or ideas of our guest speakers, nor by hosting this event is it our attempt to influence public opinion, public policy, or the law.”
“We invite you to attend this event, where you will have the opportunity to ask Mr. Gonzales his views about the issues raised in your letter.”
“Finally, if you’re interested in co-sponsoring an event with us in the future, please let us know; we would be delighted to work with you.”
Two other local organizations are involved with the event in various ways.
Los Abogados, the Hispanic bar association, was approached by organizers and asked whether they would co-sponsor the event. Los Abogados President Ed Maldonado confirmed his board’s decision: “Our board voted to not officially participate in this particular event.”
I asked Ed if Los Abogados’ decision to decline was based on the financial amount, or on a concern about the keynote speaker who had been invited. He responded, “Unfortunately I can’t comment any further without getting into the discussion of our board, and I cannot do that. We voted not to officially sponsor the event. We also did not join in or sign onto any letters. So the only official position I can comment on is what has been stated already.”
Meanwhile, Quarles & Brady issued a press release stating that it would be a sponsor of the Caucus’s lecture series. The February 19 release opens, “The national law firm of Quarles & Brady LLP today announced that it will be a sponsor of the Phoenix Alumni Chapter’s Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute lecture series this month. Labor & Employment Group associate Marian M. Zapata-Rossa will present the opening remarks and introduce the guest speaker, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.”
Curious if the controversy troubled Quarles, I asked law firm leaders if they had a comment. Here are the February 23 remarks I received from the firm. Phoenix office managing partner Nicole France Stanton wrote:
“At Quarles & Brady, diversity is a part of our mission. For more than two decades, the firm has been committed to an aggressive agenda designed to promote and achieve diversity at all levels, which includes sponsoring diverse groups, speakers and topics such as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (“CHCI”) lecture series this month featuring the former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as its guest speaker. In addition, we are also engaged in several ongoing initiatives that advance the firm’s diversity goal of greater inclusion, understanding, respect and opportunity including our Women in Leadership Program, Attorney Recruiting, Retention and Promotion (Minority Scholarships and Internships, Tribal Law Summer Associate program) and Family-Friendly Policies (including LGBT Domestic Partner Benefits).”
“We are proud to have a founding member of the CHCI Phoenix Alumni Chapter as part of our team at Quarles & Brady, and are explicitly supporting diversity through this sponsorship.”
“We will welcome an extraordinarily diverse group to the program this week, including local leaders and attorneys, members of the Arizona Latino Caucus, the CHCI Phoenix Alumni Chapter, and Arizona District Court Judges.”
If you are planning to attend Wednesday’s event (and are not affiliated with any of the organizations or sponsors) and would like to write a guest blog post following up on his remarks, please contact me at email@example.com.
And here are the letters of oppition and the response letter (click to enlarge).