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.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice logo 2014In case you missed it, as they say: Reporter Michael Kiefer opened a four-part series yesterday about the prevalence (or its opposite) of prosecutorial misconduct.

That is bound to be a controversial issue, but I’m sure many will read this week’s Arizona Republic coverage closely.

His first piece is here.

That is certainly relevant to my legal audience, even if the topic will rankle some (if you want to see how much, just scroll down past his article to the reader comments beneath. Sheesh!). But besides the article’s substantive value, I also was intrigued by an acknowledgment included with it:

“This series was researched and written as part of a fellowship with The Guggenheim Foundation and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.”

Arizona Attorney Magazine January 2012 cover criminal sentencingHey, I know the John Jay College—because I also had the opportunity to be named a Guggenheim Fellow a few years ago. As such, I traveled to New York for a targeted symposium on crime in America.

As a working writer, it is quite a luxury to have a trip dedicated to learning—especially when your expenses are paid. In an annual conference, the Guggenheim Foundation brings a parade of national experts before a group of 25 or so journalists to help dissect the criminal justice system. (I got to attend another Guggenheim workshop, in Reno, on incarceration and release issues, in 2008).

The repayment you make to that cutting-edge learning is that you commit to coverage of a related topic. My coverage—on criminal sentencing and the political possibilities for change—appeared in the January 2012 Arizona Attorney Magazine.

Kiefer’s a great reporter, and I can picture the Manhattan room he sat in; I wonder if it snowed during his East Coast trip too. I look forward to what he can accomplish this week (with the Gannett machine behind him!). Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org and let me know what you think of the coverage.

Guggenheim acknowledgment

In the January 2012 issue, I thanked the John Jay College and Guggenheim folks for a terrific learning experience.

law-schoolThe tribulations of law schools continue.

Yesterday, a story from the ABA Journal reported that the McGeorge School of Law had cut its enrollment by 40 percent. That massive sea change was accompanied by staff layoffs at the California school.

Of course, no one course of treatment will be adopted by all the law school patients. A local response to the economic downturn is for an Arizona law school to create its own law firm.

Previously we’ve read about ASU Law School’s plans to launch a firm populated with recent law school graduates. You can read more about it here.

I had mentioned ASU’s initiative back in April. As the law firm gets closer to openings its doors, I’m still wondering what Arizona lawyers think of it.

ASU Law School logoThis past week, one lawyer penned his support for the project in the Arizona Republic. As Mark Briggs opens:

“Something in the legal world is broken. Law schools are creating more lawyers than there are good jobs, and many of these new lawyers have over $100,000 in student-loan debt. It is a tough problem, but ASU is about to try an innovative solution.”

“Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law plans to create an “Alumni Law Group,” which will employ 30 new graduates and will cost approximately $5 million a year to launch. ASU believes it will be self-sufficient in five years.”

“While some have criticized ASU’s plan as merely a ploy to improve the law school’s rankings by boosting its graduates’ employment rates, I think it is a concept well worth trying for several reasons.”

Briggs then offers three reasons he thinks the effort will succeed. And no, it’s not a softball piece; he also critiques what he believes was the law school’s error in being “overly optimistic in admitting far more students than there are jobs in this market.”

You should read his complete op-ed here. And then sound off below with your own viewpoint on the law firm project.

Today is the happy anniversary of a significant legal event: On June 4, 1919, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was enacted. The “suffrage amendment” prohibited voting discrimination based on sex.

It is a coincidence that the remarkable milestone coincides with the release yesterday of important salary data in Arizona. But the two may be related as a view into Americans’ shifting views of gender equity.

 Yesterday, the Arizona Republic released the results of its latest data on the highest-paid executives of Arizona public companies. The paper says that it has compiled these numbers for about the past 15 years.

I don’t know if readers eagerly await the story, though I’d guess it gives the Occupy Movement palpitations. But it is an intriguing view into the corporate world and its ups and downs.

I am one of those increasingly rare folks who get a newspaper subscription, so I was able to read Russ Wiles’ story while sitting at my kitchen table. It was well written and insightful.

But I also am curious about the digital delivery of news, and so last night I surfed over to azcentral.com, home of the Republic and of the local NBC affiliate Channel 12. There, I could see that the delivery left a lot to be desired—even given azcentral’s poor track record.

You may disagree and find azcentral to be all an online newspaper should be. However, I find it a very often unsearchable morass. And this time was no exception. And it got worse than the poor search function.

As in the print newspaper’s strong front-page tease, the salary story got prominent play up top in azcentral (more on that in a minute). The print version followed that up with significant coverage, beginning at D1 and covering almost two more full pages.

Online was more of a slog, though. Clicking the home-page link took you not to Russ’ article, but to a slideshow-type demon that let you click through, one-by-one, all the Arizona executives who earned $4 million or more last year.

Oddly, the slideshow was not broken out between highly paid CEOs and highly paid non-CEOs; they were lumped together (unlike the print paper, which had separate helpful tables).

Nor was the slideshow accessible except in a cumbersome linear way. It began, much to my surprise, with the lowest-paid executive who made $4 million—rather than with the highest-paid executive, who made $82 million.

That’s a generous little gift from the Republic to the one-percent, don’t you think? Online viewers will never take the time to scroll through more than 100 names and bios to find out who is atop the sedan chair (that would be Richard Adkerson, whose mining giant Freeport-McMoRan dished $82 million his way).

Also strange, there is no easy link to Wiles’ actual analysis. Readers curious about what it all means have to search for the story. Of course, they wouldn’t have the benefit print-readers do and know the reporter’s name. Good luck to the nonsubscribers. Here is the story online.

My biggest surprise, though, is one I’ve saved for last.

As I read the Sunday paper, more than one family member looked at the story on D1 and remarked that the biggest salaries went to—surprise—a whole lot of white men. In fact, the paper included 10 small head-shots, and they were as described.

When I got to the azcentral home page, though, a different set of images greeted me: four head-shots, one of whom was a woman.

That page disappeared quickly, so I was sure to save us a screen shot. Here it is.

Because it’s azcentral, there was no helpful photo cutline, so I had to research who the woman was. Fortunately, she’s at the “low end” of the pay scale, so it took me just two clicks to discover that it was Kimberly McWaters, CEO of Universal Technical Institute. She logged in at $4.1 million.

I’m sure the writing and reporting staff have nothing to do with azcentral’s design, but it caused me to wonder: What does the casual web-reader think when they see a story tease about large executive compensation, and 25 percent of the images are of a woman?

That’s misleading, to say the least.

By the Republic’s own data:

  • McWaters was ranked as number 14 out of 52 public company CEOs.
  • She is the only woman CEO in that list of 52 people.
  • And when we include the “highly paid non-CEOs” who earn more than McWaters, she comes in at spot 28 out of 116.
  • By setting the slideshow’s cutoff at $4 million, the online version ensured that there was a woman CEO in the mix.

(To Wiles’ credit, he highlighted the fact that a non-CEO woman—Kathleen Quirk, CFO at Freeport McMoRan—was paid $6.8 million. Her photo did not appear on the home page.)

So you’ve got to wonder: Was the photo of the sole woman CEO cherry-picked by the designers to lend some diversity to a story where there was little? Do standards of accuracy apply online as well as in the print paper?

Given that more and more people are getting their news entirely from digital sources, let’s hope so.


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