A new Phoenix Compliance Assistance Program aims to assist residents whose civil fines have led to the loss of a driver's license or worse.

A new Phoenix Compliance Assistance Program aims to assist residents whose civil fines have led to the loss of a driver’s license or worse.

This week, the City of Phoenix and its Municipal Court announced a new program that aims to counter situations that have too often have led people into financial straits and even into the justice system.

The new “Compliance Assistance Program” is “designed to give residents with past-due traffic fines a path to repay the debts and work towards restoring driving privileges.”

The past year has provided numerous examples from around the country in which residents faced financial ruin and increased interaction with police because of an accumulation of unpaid tickets, fines, and penalties. But these issues didn’t just face residents of Ferguson, Missouri, or other newsworthy places; they face residents of Arizona cities too. The Phoenix program is a salutary effort to address those problems; you can read more about it here.

As Megan Cassidy reports:

“The Compliance Assistance Program is designed to break what can become a crippling cycle of fines and subsequent driving penalties: Unpaid fines can lead to a suspended license. And driving on a suspended license can lead to criminal charges and jail time for the working poor. As of Dec. 31, Phoenix was owed more than $283 million in overdue municipal fines, fees and restitution dating back decades. As many as 6,000 people currently have their licenses suspended because of delinquent Phoenix fines.”

Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego

Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego

Quoted in the story and a key driver of the change is Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego.

“We want people to be able to pay their fines in a sustainable way,” she said. “If you push people to the brink of their financial ability, the consequences are more negative.”

New Chief Presiding Municipal Judge B. Don Taylor came into the job via a contentious process, but his advocacy for these changes is a welcome sign for a progressive court, one that has substantial daily interactions with residents. Though the program is just a first step, residents should be heartened by the actions of Judge Taylor and Councilwoman Gallego, who “said she made reforming the Municipal Court system a priority in her decision-making when the City Council selected a new presiding municipal judge last year.”

As Judge Taylor says in the Arizona Republic story, “It’s really providing a mechanism that people haven’t really had before. I think creating something that will allow them to be compliant, get the license back, really helps them be in a good place.”

If the name Don Taylor sounds familiar, it may be because he’s a longtime lawyer, former prosecutor, and even a story-subject in Arizona Attorney Magazine. In 2007, we spoke with him as he worked at the International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague.

Congratulations on the new program.

Attorney B. Don Taylor in the February 2007 Arizona Attorney, describing his work at The Hague.

Attorney B. Don Taylor in the February 2007 Arizona Attorney, describing his work at The Hague.

When it comes to the ADA's 25th anniversary, should we celebrate? Do better? Or both?

When it comes to the ADA’s 25th anniversary, should we celebrate? Do better? Or both?

Yesterday, I pointed you toward a few news stories regarding the 25th anniversary of passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Today, I suggest some additional resources and reading.

Begin with an insightful op-ed by Erica McFadden. She’s an analyst at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU. As she opens her piece:

“Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and there is reason to celebrate the progress it ushered in over that quarter-century. But needed still is a call to action to affirm equality — especially in terms of employment.”

“Just one in three Arizonans with disabilities ages 16 to 64 were employed from 2008 to 2012, according to the census. That’s compared to more than two in three (71 percent) Arizonans with no disabilities who were employed during that time.”

“Perhaps even more sobering is the percentage of Arizonans with disabilities not even in the job market: 59 percent.”

And then follow it up with a My Turn column in the Arizona Republic by Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi where she examines the sad statistics surrounding employment of people with disabilities.

Understanding-the-ADA-Goren ABA bookThird, for the law practice-minded among you, head over the ABA website to consider purchasing a new book titled “Understanding the ADA,” by William D. Goren and described by the publisher:

“This new edition of Understanding the ADA delves deeper into many of the complex topics of disability claims. The updates offer expanded guidance on remedies if the law is violated; advice on when you have a right to sue; the statute of limitations for ADA claims; when a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss; and whether a class-action is a viable thing to pursue. There are new areas of discussion regarding standing, when a complaint is sufficient, statute of limitations, and mixed-motive jury instructions, and additional information on disparate treatment cases, class actions, jury selection, and Batson challenges. Expanded and new topics include: ADA as it relates to sports including the Office of Civil Rights guidance on § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act Utilizing negligence and negligence per se actions as an alternative to title III claims Highly detailed chapter on remedies and procedural issues Improved checklists and litigation forms.”

Finally, please enjoy the great article by Judge Randall Howe that we published in May. It reminds us how important advocacy is to progress. In the judge’s case, it was his mother who was driven for equity in her son’s education. For you? Well, everyone may have a different advocate.

Grant Woods The Project logo

In “The Project,” Grant Woods aims to support the arts and repair a state’s image.

Interested in seeing—and hearing—Arizona in a new light? You may want to attend a September concert.

The impetus for the concert and a related CD is partially an expression of a love for the arts, as expressed by Grant Woods—a former Arizona Attorney General and current columnist in Arizona Attorney Magazine. His newest musical initiative is called The Project, and it’s described here.

The Arizona Republic’s Ed Masley did a great interview with and story about Grant and his newest project; you can read it in today’s newspaper.

Aiming to improve the state’s tarnished image—and to engage the songwriter part of his brain—Woods gathered a group of remarkable musicians and performers to launch a CD and hold a benefit concert (there is some overlap in who’s on the CD and who will perform in concert). The concert will benefit Arizona School for the Arts (disclosure: One of our daughters attends there, and our older daughter graduated from there.)

The first thing to know: I’m told the concert will be a hot ticket, and so you should consider buying for the September 18 show early rather than late. Tickets are on sale here.

Former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods (left) works on a song with guitarist Michael Nitro at 3 Leaf Recording in Phoenix on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. (Photo: Michael Schennum/Ariz. Republic)

Former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods (left) works on a song with guitarist Michael Nitro at 3 Leaf Recording in Phoenix on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. (Photo: Michael Schennum/Ariz. Republic)

Second: Called “The Project,” the CD became available on May 14, and was described by the producers:

The Project, a collaboration of Arizona musical all-stars performing 10 of Woods’ original songs, will be released today. Performers on The Project, each of whom volunteered his or her time, include Nils Lofgren of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Gin Blossoms guitarist Scott Johnson, Lawrence Zubia of the Pistoleros, Al Ortiz, Francine Reed and Ray Herndon (both touring with Lyle Lovett and his Large Band), Michael Nitro, Alice Tatum, Walt Richardson, Blaine Long, Mindy Harris and Hans Olson.

More detail is here.

Finally, because we’re visual thinkers, enjoy this video about the making of The Project. It’s always nice to get behind the music.

What value do dark skies hold? An Arizona Republic article examines the issue.

What value do dark skies hold? An Arizona Republic article examines the issue.

This week, the Arizona Republic offered a comprehensive view of a topic that dogs the west—and most urban areas. Writer Megan Finnerty explored the value of maintaining dark skies over our heads—and how challenging that goal is.

The path that led to ensuring dark skies over Flagstaff may provide a roadmap to do so in other places. But the opposition that masses against such an effort is robust—and strategic.

Reading the story, I started to wonder whether there is a Dark Skies go-to lawyer in Arizona. Has anyone—perhaps someone who represented darkness advocates in the past—carved out a niche and reputation as an expert in the area?

If you know, write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org. There may be a legal story in the skies above us.

Gila County, Ariz., courthouse, by Ken Lund

Gila County, Ariz., courthouse, by Ken Lund

Arizona’s landscape is dotted with some beautiful courthouses, many still in operation. But for those that are not, finding a suitable “chapter two” can be a challenge.

In Gila County, a wonderful old courthouse faced an empty future. But, as an Arizona Republic story explains, it has been transformed into the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts.

I may be on an adaptive reuse kick this month (see my story from yesterday about auto dealerships transforming in Boston), but I was very taken with this Arizona story. You can read the whole thing here.

And for more information on the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts, go here and here.

Here's how we covered the False Claims Act last March. (Get it? Whistleblower?)

Here’s how we covered the False Claims Act last March. (Get it? Whistleblower?)

Every now and then, the timeliness of a magazine article is brought home to you with great force. Yesterday’s Arizona Republic contained a piece that reminded me how valuable a magazine (even in print!) can be.

The subject of the Dennis Wagner story is a huge fraud settlement that a Tucson hospital must pay. As the article says, the Carondelet Health Network will pay $35 million, which is “the largest penalty of its kind in Arizona.” Just as fascinating, though, is the fact that “a whistle-blower who exposed the case will receive nearly $6 million of that sum.”

Read the whole story here.

The whistleblower is a Tucson woman named Jacqueline Bloink, “identified online as president of an agency that provides health-care compliance consulting and fraud investigations.”

Bloink sued Carondelet in 2011 in federal court. Then, “The Justice Department intervened and said Carondelet ‘knowingly and falsely billed’ the federal health agencies, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office news release.”

Back in March, we published an article regarding the continuing vitality of the federal False Claims Act. In it, authors Barb Dawson and Daniel Huitink explained how a qui tam plaintiff may step in and sue when they see wrongdoing that affects the public purse. Or, as Dennis Wagner writes, “The False Claims Act contains provisions that allow private citizens to file fraud complaints on behalf of the government and to share in whatever funds are recovered. Under terms of the settlement, Bloink is to receive $5.95 million.”

His article includes commentary from Bloink’s attorney:

“‘This settlement is an extraordinary achievement and confirms once again the essential role that private whistle-blowers and their counsel play in helping our partners in the government to combat health-care fraud,’ David J. Caputo, one of Bloink’s attorneys, said in a written statement.”

Extra points, there, for managing to shoehorn in the value of the whistleblower’s lawyer!

I encourage you to go back and read the article by Barb and Daniel. They give a concise history of what was called “Lincoln’s Law” (named for Abraham Lincoln; you’ll have to read to see why).

More important for possible clients who are potential defendants, read the practice tips our authors provide on how to head off such a lawsuit before it happens. As I read their sage advice, I imagine Carondelet missed the boat in numerous areas.

Just another example of how heeding a good attorney—and purchasing a reasonably priced magazine subscription—can make a world of difference.

Dianne Barker just wants to cartwheel. Is that so bad?

Dianne Barker just wants to cartwheel. Is that so bad?

OK, that may have been a link-baiting headline if there ever was one. But a recent Arizona news story teaches us one of America’s oldest lessons: Leave it to a lawyer to crush a woman’s cartwheeling dreams.

The facts are simple: A woman expressed herself at a public hearing not simply through her words, but also through a cartwheel. Cue the irked board, which had its attorney send a “please knock it off” letter.

What, were all the lemonade stands already boarded up thanks to covenants not to compete?

I joke, of course (as this is Change of Venue Friday). The anti-cartwheeling letter that attorney Fredda Bisman sent this week was entirely understandable—though the sentiment behind it has become the butt of quite a few jokey news stories.

Here’s what happened, as reported by Arizona Republic reporter Dustin Gardiner. (Dustin covers all kinds of serious, City Hall-type stuff, too. But this story is the gift that keeps on giving.)

Dianne Barker is a community activist and what acid-reflux-affected public officials call (through clenched teeth) a “gadfly.” I know Dianne, and she speaks often and whole-heartedly at many public meetings.

The 65-year-old woman also takes a shine to cheerleading outfits. And she has developed a reputation as someone who will offer a cartwheel—along with her words—during public comment periods.

Most recently, she offered the alley-oop at a meeting of the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG). As the topic was transportation, and as she is a bicyclist and wellness advocate, she may have been merely expressing the value of getting out of our cars.

You should read the whole story here.

It’s happened before, apparently. For more background, here is an excerpt from minutes of a March 28, 2012, MAG meeting (found via this news story). As you’ll see, Dianne cites to a higher authority—now-retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

“Chair Hallman recognized public comment from Dianne Barker, who stated that multimodal feels good. She said that she used to do cartwheels, but the doctors and lawyers stopped that. Ms. Barker said that she saw Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at the Arizona Centennial celebration and she asked Justice O’Connor what might happen if Ms. Barker were to do a cartwheel in her courthouse to which Justice O’Connor replied to just do it and see what they say. She did the cartwheel and the guards liked it.”

Back to the current legal tumble and the letter sent to Dianne. This blog’s legal audience yearns (I know) to read the letter itself, so here it is:

Diane Barker cartwheeling letter

I know what you’re thinking: What part of Citizens United does this lawyer not understand? If money is speech, how could a cartwheel be anything less? (Yes, I joke.)

Time, place and manner restrictions? Can cheerleaders shout “Go, Phoenix!” in a crowded boardroom? Perhaps Dianne should foreswear the cartwheel and shift to a vocal offering: “Two, four, six, eight, what do we appreciate? A little humor! Sheesh!”

Of course, anyone who has ever had a client can picture the conversation between the MAG leadership and the MAG general counsel: “You want me to send her a letter that orders her to stop cartwheeling? Really? You do know this will end up on the late-night comedy shows, and be confused with an Onion story—right?”

But the client proposes, and the counselor disposes.

Finally, I can’t top the way a newspaper reporter concluded his coverage (and got “tyranny” in the headline): “Give her gymnastics, or give her death.” (Writer Larry O’Connor goes on to muse what George Washington would have thought of cartwheels. ‘Nuff said.)

Have an exhilarating—and legally aerobic—weekend.

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