Heather Mac Donald

Heather Mac Donald

Tonight, Thursday, Nov. 12, conservative commenter Heather Mac Donald will visit ASU to deliver a talk titled “Is the American Great Crime Decline Sustainable?

The free public lecture will be delivered at 6:30 pm on the ASU Tempe campus, ISTB4, Marston Theater.

According to event organizers, Mac Donald’s work has largely focused on crime rates and race. She “pushes back against common arguments of racism in policing and the criminal justice system as a whole to argue for preventative policing that she believes contributed to the 20-year decline of crime in America.”

Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. Her work covers a range of topics, including homeland security, immigration, policing and racial profiling, homelessness and homeless advocacy, and educational policy.

You can see more of what the speaker advocates here, via C-SPAN:

Heather Mac Donald book cover policing racismIntroducing Mac Donald will be Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

Following Mac Donald’s talk, the former director of the Office for Victims of Crime, John W. Gillis, will give a brief talk about his career and experiences. He is a founding member of Justice for Homicide Victims and the Coalition of Victims Equal Rights.

More information and a Q&A with Montgomery and Gillis are here.

The event is free. RSVP here.

Parking is available (for a fee) in the Rural Road Parking Structure.

Panelists Hon. Joseph Welty, Bill Montgomery and Justice Robert Brutinel discuss mobile devices in the courtroom, Oct. 17, 2014, Phoenix Ariz.

Panelists Hon. Joseph Welty, Bill Montgomery and Justice Robert Brutinel discuss mobile devices in the courtroom, Oct. 17, 2014, Phoenix Ariz.

A recent panel discussion on mobile devices in courtrooms yielded surprising agreement on the role of those devices in the justice system. It took the lone media representative on the panel to throw a little cold water on that unified discussion.

I mentioned before the October 17 event, held at the ASU Cronkite School. Tonight, as sad word emerges from the Arizona Republic of its latest round of forced journalist departures, let me give a synopsis of the Arizona dialogue about technology in courtrooms.

The First Amendment Coalition of Arizona event was introduced by journo and educator Mark Scarp (Mark is also the Past President of the Society of Professional Journalists Valley of the Sun Chapter). The panel, moderated by attorney David Bodney, included:

  • Justice Robert Brutinel, chair of a Court committee that examined the issue
  • Hon. Joseph Welty, Presiding Criminal Judge for Maricopa County
  • Bill Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney
  • Criminal defense attorney Jennifer Willmott (and counsel in the Jodi Arias case)
  • Cathie Batbie, news director at KVOA-TV (Channel 4-NBC) in Tucson

As previously mentioned, the panel discussed the impact of two rule changes, specifically made to Supreme Court Rule 122.1 (use of mobile devices in courtrooms) and Rule 122 (video, audio and still photography in courtrooms).

ASU Cronkite Journalism School, site for panel discussion of mobile devices in courtrooms, Oct. 17, 2014.

ASU Cronkite Journalism School, site for panel discussion of mobile devices in courtrooms, Oct. 17, 2014.

Justice Brutinel led off the conversation by explaining the committee’s thinking. As he sat in the journalism school’s First Amendment Forum, he stated a truism: “There’s a division between the interests of journalists and the interests of justice.”

Initially, he said, the committee considered some drastic approaches. Could a rule simply exclude all digital technology from the courthouse? Could it create a technological wall that prevented its use anywhere in the building?

No, and no, as it turned out. The first would be unworkable and overbearing in numerous ways. And the second would violate FCC regulations.

It wasn’t a slam-dunk, though. Justice Brutinel said that it was hotly contested by the committee, and a full prohibition was argued three separate times. It was finally determined that was not a reasonable position. In fact, there was no good and abiding reason not to allow such devices, with some restrictions.

Guiding the work of the committee, Justice Brutinel said, were certain realities, such as the fact that virtually everyone has a portable electronic device (or three) today. But also discussed among committee members were certain beliefs, held by at least a few: The presence of cameras changes the way people behave (though that effect may wane over time). And it is more difficult than ever before to determine who is a “journalist.”

The answer to the second issue is simple: Courts no longer ask if a person requesting electronic use is part of the media. The same rules apply to all.

L to R: Justice Robert Brutinel, Jennifer Willmott, Cathie Batbie

L to R: Justice Robert Brutinel, Jennifer Willmott, Cathie Batbie

As David Bodney said, the most important takeaway of the new rules is that you must ask for permission; the judge wants to know if you will interfere in the process, so they want to be asked.

That seemingly simple imprecation was challenged by KVOA’s Cathie Batbie, though. She explained how there appeared to be uniform approaches in the Tucson Superior Courts to disallow cameras, no matter the request. “We’re a visual medium, and the public has a right to that access.”

The dialogue that followed may be the definition of the devil in the details. When many on the panel urged that the press should simply take an appeal to the Court of Appeals, Batbie explained again the reality of a profession that travels faster than one whose holdings are conveyed in a West’s bound volume. Such a litigious approach, while possible, Batbie said, was unlikely to occur—or to be helpful.

“How do you get information to the public when you have these hurdles?” Batbie asked. The answer, she suggested, is “Don’t set rules based on some bad journalists, but on what’s right for the public.”

“You do want people to know what you’re doing every day.”

That statement (or perhaps it was a question) went unanswered.

Judge Welty discussed the “logistical challenges” associated with Rule 122. They are “not insurmountable,” he said, but the initial result was that journalists asked to be at every proceeding, just to be cover their bases. Then, as the date for proceedings approached, media made strategic decisions and often didn’t appear.

The Presiding Criminal Judge was the first panelist to use the phrases “gavel to gavel coverage” and “live-streaming,” developments that clearly troubled numerous members of the panel. Judge Welty called it “presenting trials as TV dramas.”

“I’m not sure it’s journalism; it may be reality TV.”

Bill Montgomery offered, “Is it a modern version of the Roman Circus and just trying to provide entertainment?” (which may have been a statement and not a question)

“This is a business environment that is not healthy to our republic,” Montgomery continued, “and that does not create confidence in our justice system.”

“When someone drives several states to get a prosecutor’s autograph, and when he’s told no, he breaks down, this system is not working.”

Jennifer Willmott, counsel in a case often derided as a Roman Circus, said that “What we want is an honest and fair trial.”

Willmott extended the discussion about media inside the courtroom to the larger world: “Cyberlynchings occur on social media among people who know noting about the case.”

Judge Welty added, “Are [TV stations] producing a TV drama or presenting information about our institutions?” (I think he was being rhetorical.)

Faced with prosecutor, court and defense all wrinkling their nose in distaste at TV coverage of trials (or I should say trial; can you say Jodi Arias?), Cathie Batbie could merely offer, “Streaming video is huge. It’s important to provide that coverage, with safeguards.”

Mark Scarp introduces the panel, including (L to R) moderator David Bodney, Hon. Joseph Welty, Bill Montgomery.

Mark Scarp introduces the panel, including (L to R) moderator David Bodney, Hon. Joseph Welty, Bill Montgomery.

After the event, Montgomery said that the new rules allow for flexibility, and broader understanding of the trial system by the public is a good thing.

But when “talking heads give their theory of the prosecution and they don’t even undertsand the law in our jurisdiction,” they do a disservice to viewers.

“Bad media can affect how people act in the courtroom,” Montgomery added.

So what comes next? Enforcement—and education.

Judge Welty said that Rule 122.1 is “completely technology-driven.” Over the next five years, he said, tools like Google glass and iwatches “will make the curent rule meaningless.” When that happens, he said, “We’ll move to enforcing violations rather than banning devices.”

Finally, he offered a call to action: “This issue behooves the State Bar to put together a program for lawyers on all their ethical responsibilities” in regard to mobile devices in courtrooms.

Who’s in? I do know if the Bar puts on such a seminar, it’ll probably be live-streamed.

Bills of mortality preceded modern death certificates, and they suffer from similar challenges.

Bills of mortality preceded modern death certificates, and they suffer from similar challenges.

Years ago, in a job-related field trip, I attended a tour of the medical examiner’s facility in Clark County, Nevada. As the chief office of the pathologist for Las Vegas and its environs, it was a busy place.

Like most of the living, I had never given much thought to the multiple tasks that must be performed on the dead—especially if they died under suspicious circumstances or not under the care of a doctor.

As I learned that day, the task of the M.E. is often a complex one. And nothing is more complex than the element that is often the sole source of interest for others: affixing the single cause of death.

I was reminded of that challenge during a State Bar of Arizona CLE a few weeks ago. There, a pro-con was staged on the legalization of marijuana. Though the wider acceptance of medical marijuana may suggest we’re approaching legalization, the topic is still a thorny one, as evidenced by the vehement dialogue at the CLE.

Sure as no-rain in Arizona, though, a recent death was raised, one that may suggest more questions than answers.

As background, we recall the oft-repeated position of marijuana advocates that not one death has ever been attributed to pot—and compare that with the millions killed by cigarettes and alcohol.

It’s a compelling statistic, one that continues to irk enforcement advocates. And that may be why we have heard advocates mention a Colorado death a lot the past few weeks.

The story (reported here by the Denver Post) is about a young man who jumped to his death after eating marijuana-infused cookies. Here’s the story lede:

“A college student visiting Denver jumped to his death from a hotel balcony after eating marijuana-infused cookies, according to a coroner’s report that marks the first time authorities have publicly linked a death to marijuana since legal sales of recreational cannabis began in Colorado.”

“Levy Thamba, a 19-year-old student at Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., died last month at a Holiday Inn in northeast Denver. On Wednesday, the Denver coroner released a report concluding that Thamba’s death was caused by ‘multiple injuries due to a fall from height.’”

“The coroner also listed ‘marijuana intoxication’ from cannabis-infused cookies as a significant condition contributing to the death. The report classifies the death as an accident.”

At the Bar CLE, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery alluded to the death, saying that it punches a hole in his opponent’s argument.

But does it?

An article this month in the New Yorker would suggest any coroner’s conclusion is a more nuanced one. In “Final Forms: What death certificates can tell us, and what they can’t,” Kathryn Schulz explores the history of one of civil society’s most ambiguous documents (you can read some of her great article here; sorry, but a subscription wall prevents you from reading the whole thing). And resting your argument on such a piece of paper may not tell the whole story.

Huckleberry Finn had many skills, but determining causes of death was not one of them.

Huckleberry Finn had many skills, but determining causes of death was not one of them.

Schulz opens by describing the meandering history of “bills of mortality” and the coroners who wielded them. The shift from the publicly published bills to the modern-day death certificates has been accompanied by increasing professionalism—but they still may not be the scientifically accurate document the certainty-loving may hope for.

Along the way, Schulz notes, coroners have been known to alter a cause of death to protect reputations or to soften the blow felt by grieving families of means. But if death certificates may be used to protect the dead, could they also be used politically to throw aspersions on the dead? Sure, but that’s not even the biggest challenge.

The toughest nut to crack for M.E.s may reside in the question posed by us lay-people: “Finally, what was the one thing that killed him?

As Schulz writes, “The why of death remains elusive—practically, philosophically, above all emotionally. And, the more extensively we attempt to document it through death certificates, the stranger and more troubled that project comes to seem.”

So if the accuracy of death certificates faces numerous challenges—as Schulz shows—a primary one “is how we decide what counts as a good answer.”

In that exploration, I was extremely pleased to see her turn to Mark Twain, specifically a passage from Huckleberry Finn. It involves a conversation between the stubborn Huck and the Wilks sisters, who are having none of his malarkey.

“One afternoon,” writes Schulz, “while chatting with the Wilks sisters, Huck spontaneously invents a new disease—a form of mumps so virulent that, he claims, a neighbor is in danger of dying from it.”

One sister objects, but Hucks doubles down, saying it can kill the neighbor because it’s “mixed up with other things,” from “yaller janders” to “brain fever.”

Susan Wilks—whom I hope inspires M.E.s everywhere—will have none of it, reminding Huck that it is therefore not the mumps that may cause the neighbor’s demise:

“A body might stump his toe, and take pison, and fall down the well, and break his neck, and bust his brains out, and somebody come along and ask what killed him, and some numskull up and say, ‘Why, he stumped his toe.’ Would ther’ be any sense in that? No. And ther’ ain’t no sense in this, nuther.”

I leave you with Schulz’s point: “This is precisely the problem posed by death certificates; when filling them out, how far back should we chase the causal chain?

That chain could, I suppose, end with a cookie. But I suspect Susan Wilks would arch an eyebrow at that supposition.

Radley Balko

Radley Balko

“Are cops constitutional?”

With that opening and follow-up sentences just as damning, Radley Balko has caused a furor among U.S. experts in policing and the Constitution. And this Friday, Balko will be in Arizona to make his controversial arguments.

That opening sentence was the first line in an impressive ABA Journal article last July. Titled “How did America’s police become a military force on the streets?” it is definitely worth your time. I know, I know, it’s crazy long, and we’ve all been trained (said the blogger) to read little snippets of thought and snark. Well, get over it. Pour yourself a cup of coffee, tea, wine or whisky (depending on the time and your inclination) and settle in. It will reward your time investment.

What Balko does is deconstruct the path of military dollars as it has been funneled into many police agencies, probably in your very own community. And the trickle-down effect of the global war on drugs (which is where this money is targeted) has been to transform your local constables into a highly trained, armed-to-the-teeth platoon of peace-keepers—who to the casual observer may be indistinguishable from U.S. military.

We are used to noting in politics that money has a certain corrupting influence, but many folks resist observing the same effect when it comes to our police departments. Balko has no such hesitation.

Example of policing monies, from Radley Balko ABA Journal article.

Example of policing monies, from Radley Balko ABA Journal article.

So why is the well-known Washington Post journalist coming to Arizona? To debate Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

Having read a fair amount of Balko’s work, I have to admire Bill’s willingness to jump into this fight. I look forward to seeing the two men spar.

The event will be on Friday, February 21, at 11:30. The sponsor is the Phoenix Federalist Society Lawyers Chapter. The debate will be at Kincaid’s, 2 S. 3rd St., Phoenix 85004.

Here is how they describe the combatants—I mean speakers:

militarization of police - Federalist Society debateRadley Balko is a senior writer and investigative reporter for the Huffington Post and a former senior editor for Reason magazine. He is the author of Rise of the Warrior Cop, which argues that politicians’ ill-considered policies and relentless declarations of war against vague enemies like crime, drugs, and terror have blurred the distinction between cop and soldier.”

“Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery was first elected to his position in a Special Election in 2010 and re-elected in 2012 on a pledge to fight crime, honor victims’ rights, and protect and strengthen our community. As a West Point Graduate, decorated Gulf War Veteran, former Deputy County Attorney and a professional prosecutor, he has dedicated his personal and professional life to serving others.”

Interested? You should be. Register here.

I may write a follow-up post. But if you’re moved to do the same, contact me about a possible guest post.

debate microphoneEvent images have been added to the bottom of this post.

At 11:15 this morning, the one and only forum of candidates for Maricopa County Attorney will occur. I encourage you to attend.

First of all, I have to divulge: I will be moderating the forum. But as we know, the moderator’s main job is to speak little and to let the candidates do most all the talking. Though that may not always work well (yo, Jim Lehrer), that is my plan and I’m stickin’ to it.

The more important reason to attend is that this is an incredibly important elected office. Even if there is little doubt about the race’s outcome between Libertarian Michael Kielsky and Republican Bill Montgomery (no Democratic candidate was fielded), I still think that hearing what people stand for counts for a lot.

The topics themselves are some of the most noteworthy in our communities: charging, sentencing, immigration, drug use, medical marijuana, campaign finance, prison alternatives, capital punishment, identity theft. And those are just a few of the things we may cover.

Phoenix School of Law logoYou and others may participate in a few ways. First, of course, you can come to the forum. It’s from 11:15 a.m. until 12:15 p.m., at the Phoenix School of Law, One N. Central Ave., Room 1715. Your questions will be welcomed at the end of the hour.

The other way to be a part of the process: Send me a suggested question. You can post it below, or email it to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org. I will check my email right up until we begin at 11:15, so fire away.

I hope to see you there.

Here are some images from the debate panel:

L to R: Candidate Bill Montgomery, Phoenix School of Law Professor Keith Swisher, candidate Michael Kielsky

L to R: Candidate Bill Montgomery, Phoenix School of Law Professor Keith Swisher, candidate Michael Kielsky

L to R: Candidate Bill Montgomery, Phoenix School of Law Professor Keith Swisher, candidate Michael Kielsky

L to R: Candidate Bill Montgomery, Phoenix School of Law Professor Keith Swisher, candidate Michael Kielsky

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little more 99-percent-ish than usual.

Whatever your sentiments in regard to the nationwide (and perhaps global) Occupy movement that began with Wall Street, I think many of us recognize the impulse that propels it: A sense of complete power and invincibility among a select few, while the mass of us are tossed upon the shifting seas.

The seas got even choppier yesterday, when an Arizona prosecutor announced his findings in regard to the Fiesta Bowl scandal: No one—at least, no elected officials—will be prosecuted in the ticket probe.

(I stress the “elected officials” part because one person—the Bowl’s former chief operating officer—has already been indicted. In November, a grand jury handed down charges against Natalie Wisneski, the bowl’s second-in-command. Time will tell whether anyone above her takes a fall. She has pleaded not guilty.)

I do not question the judgment of Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who made yesterday’s no-charges announcement. He indicated that “inconsistent laws, vague reporting requirements and a requirement that prosecutors prove a defendant ‘knowingly’ violated the law as factors in his decision.” (Not everyone accepts that explanation; read the words of those interviewed by the Phoenix New Times here.)

Nor do I doubt Montgomery’s conclusion that the reporting requirements are vague and make legislators’ action a moving and squishy target. Given those circumstances, he acted as a responsible prosecutor and declined to file charges.

The Occupy movement’s itch starts to ache, though, as Montgomery offered his recommendations for the future:

“Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery intends to ask the Arizona Legislature to pass sweeping reform, including an outright ban or severe restrictions on gifts for lawmakers, following his investigation into the Fiesta Bowl scandal.”

The story, which you can read here, continues:

“Montgomery said he will pressure lawmakers to:

  • Ban all gifts or require the disclosure of all gifts above a certain amount, perhaps $25.
  • Change state statutes to say what gifts are permissible.
  • Increase the frequency of reporting of gifts to quarterly from annually.
  • Create a Web-based reporting system so it’s easier for the public to see what gifts politicians have accepted.
  • Adjust penalties for knowingly or intentionally not reporting gifts to a felony from a misdemeanor.
  • Create a ‘reckless standard’ act that is punishable by a misdemeanor or civil penalty for those who violate the reporting requirements but don’t do it knowingly or intentionally.
  • Increase campaign-finance disclosure requirements.”

Hmmm. Let me return to my assessment of what gives the Occupy movement legs: A powerful and invincible few, and the storm-tossed us.

Former Fiesta Bowl head John Junker (Tom Tingle/AP)

I wish Montgomery luck as he sternly suggests to the few that they should make themselves a bit less invincible. Perhaps the better angels of their nature will prevail, and we will see such legislation in the coming legislative session.

In the meantime, if you or I want any Fiesta Bowl tickets, we’ll have to get them the old-fashioned way: By buying them.

How do you talk about important issues without being rude and boorish?

That was the challenge a lawyers group sought to overcome, and its initial effort was on display last night, Thursday, April 28. And for this visitor, it was a qualified success.

The St. Thomas More Society launched its Civil Discourse Series with a heady and controversial topic titled “The Death Penalty: Is It Moral? Is It Antiquated?”

The first notice I received in late March about the event looked to be in a debate format. It appeared to be two lawyers on one side of the topic “vs.” two others on the other side.

Last night’s program, though, merely referred to them as “panelists.”

That may have been more accurate, as the event was characterized more by mini-speeches than by sharp, concise, back-and-forth. That is not a critique, merely a recognition that the Society is feeling its way toward the ideal format for this original idea.

Those mini-speeches ranged from well stated and clear to meandering and obscure, which is par for the course for any educational panel. But more than once, audience members may have wondered about the Series’ underlying premise: Do members of the public really want to hear from lawyers—on any topic—for two hours? Wisely, organizers did not put that question to a vote.

Given the preparation and effort involved, organizers had to be disappointed in the modest turnout. The venue was the Phoenix auditorium of Xavier College Preparatory. That is a beautiful and stunning room.  But it’s also a very large room, which was only dotted with attendees. Certainly, marketing and communication will be a stronger focus for Volume 2 of the Series (which will be on immigration, co-chair Denise Blommel revealed).

Moderator Ernie Calderón, April 28, 2011

These are just quibbles. In a state that is only 110 days beyond a horrific assassination attempt in Tucson, praise must be given to the St. Thomas More Society, which is addressing head-on a coarsening of the national debate that dismays most everyone (though not everyone). Unlike the rest of us, though, the Society is doing something about it.

The evening’s moderator was Ernest Calderón. His resume is long, but the short form is that he is a Regent on the Arizona Board of Regents, a former President of the State Bar of Arizona, and a practicing lawyer.

Ernie was a good choice for the role. He is capable of a great amount of gravitas when it’s called for. But he graciously set that aside last night, as he sought to cajole, persuade, kid and prod panelists into uttering real and compelling statements on a difficult topic. Clearly, he came prepared to herd the speakers away from the raft of arguments on both sides that the public has heard for years, and toward some out-of-the-box analyses.

He was moderately successful. The panelists were cautiously open to addressing Ernie’s deliberately provocative hypotheticals. That was when the evening soared.

But there were more times when panelists got lawyerly, challenged the assumptions underlying a question, and negotiated terms to lower a question’s stakes. Unfortunately, that led to less illumination than would have been ideal.

Nonetheless, it is still invigorating to see smart people bat contrary ideas back and forth. Attendees were probably unsurprised by the arguments: retired Judge Rudy Gerber on one side reminding us that our use of the death penalty puts the United States in the company of China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen; and Tom Horne on the other side reading at (overly sufficient) length from the trial record of horrific details that occurred in notorious torture–homicides. Although the two positions may not be new, they were gripping nonetheless.

A moment of pointed debate occurred when panelist Alan Tavassoli challenged Tom Horne’s repeated statement that Horne was on the side of justice for victims, which equaled capital punishment as a solution. The AG had reiterated the “Justice = Death Penalty” trope throughout the evening, and Tavassoli finally observed that all the panelists were on the side of justice, which he believed life without the possibility of parole may provide. His question to Tom Horne could have led to an interesting exchange. Unfortunately, that was just moments before the event ended.

Here’s a photo of the distinguished panel (click it for a larger version):

L to R: Alan Tavassoli, Hon. Rudy Gerber (ret.), Ernie Calderón, Bill Montgomery, Attorney General Tom Horne

Congratulations to Ernie Calderón for keeping things moving and even light. (One of those light moments occurred when the moderator asked the prosecutor–panelists whether a prosecutor’s office would use its time better to focus on the costs of justice rather than, say, indicting judges. Without missing a beat, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery smiled and replied, “I can tell you that in my first five months in office I have indicted zero judges!” The other panelists—and the audience—roared with laughter.)

Congratulations also to the panelists:

More photos of the event are at the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

I’ll provide more detail on the fall version of the Series as it comes available.

Professor Carissa Hessick and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery debate criminal sentences, Feb. 14, 2011, Arizona State University

Last week, I attended a debate on criminal sentencing reform, hosted by the ASU Law School. I already posted one photo from the event.

The April issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine will contain a roundup of the debate. If you’re curious, here is the lede:

Those seeking a preview of future Arizona-centric battles over criminal sentencing reform gained some insight at a February 14 event. At the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, a debate—of sorts—was waged between law professor Carissa Hessick and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

The two advocates—Hessick resisted calling them “adversaries,” at least during the debate’s first half—came to the topic following an ample and growing history of sentencing reform struggles, both national and local.

As one state after another finds itself pinching even the slimmest of pennies, the cost of long prison incarceration has come under fire.

 

What was most struck me at the event—and likely struck many people who packed the classroom that day—was the veto power held by one person over the topic. Or, rather, by one position.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, Feb. 14, 2011, at ASU

As Professor Carissa Hessick herself said, County Attorney Bill Montgomery, an ASU Law graduate, is now one of the most powerful attorneys in the state. And there he was, in a debate on proposals to alter our sentencing structure in ways that may save the state millions of dollars, and, according to some, be more effective than our current regime.

Of course, intelligent minds may differ on matters of policy. But some minds are more crucial to a debate than others.

Even in a state where there are lead prosecutors in every county, the Maricopa County Attorney is the lion at the party. His office handles far more criminal matters than does any other county. Therefore, the beliefs held by that elected official are always at the center of any dialogue about criminal law in Arizona.

Given that, I know many were curious about the approach and the tone he would take at the debate, a debate he had proposed. Out of the gate, he found no value to the report that came out of the law school’s Public Policy Incubator Program. In fact, he gave short shrift to any lessons offered up by other jurisdictions, saying that Arizona’s border-state status makes it difficult to compare and apply other states’ methods.

That may be an entirely defensible position. But it means that the coming year or so in the sentencing dialogue will be a hard slog, rather than a collaborative effort.

But why should any topic in Arizona be otherwise?

More photos from the event are on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

In an upcoming post (and in Arizona Attorney Magazine), I’ll write about today’s debate on criminal sentencing reform, hosted at the ASU College of Law.

But on Valentine’s Day, I had to make note of one holiday moment that occurred before the debate began.

As Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery strode up to the dais, he said with a smile, “Don’t start my time!” And then he reached beneath the podium to retrieve a bouquet of roses.

“My wife is rarely able to come out to see me at work because she takes care of our young children,” he said, bounding up the classroom steps. “But she’s here today, so I wanted to wish her Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Here is a blurry shot of his surprised but pleased spouse.

The debate then got started, which was considerably less wrapped in loving ribbons. More on that later.

Nov. 2, 2010: Bill Montgomery waves to the crowd after giving a victory speech at the GOP election headquarters at the Hyatt in Phoenix. (Photo: Pat Shannahan, Arizona Republic)

The Sunday Arizona Republic ran a good profile about the man about to become the most influential lawyer in Arizona.

No, not the new state Attorney General, Tom Horne. I was referring to Bill Montgomery, who on November 22 will punch a clock as the new Maricopa County Attorney.

Arizona Attorney Magazine is a statewide publication, so we tend not to cover county-specific races and positions. Which may be a shame, because that meant we sidelined ourselves as the oddest squadron of legal types wreaked havoc over the state’s largest county over the past few years. And at the center of the maelstrom were two county positions: Sheriff and Attorney.

Michael Kiefer’s profile of Bill Montgomery managed to leave the starting gate before Montgomery even sat in the chair. Therefore, we’ll have to reserve judgment on whether the results align with the new prosecutor’s stated aims: to serve “the cause of justice and the people of Maricopa County.”

Kiefer hedges his bets by noting in the second graf that Sheriff Joe Arpaio “contributed heavily to Montgomery’s Republican primary win by bankrolling attack ads against Montgomery’s primary opponent, Interim County Attorney Rick Romley.”

It’s not easy, Kiefer suggests, to decline to dance with the one who brung ya.

Andrew Thomas

Montgomery seems to be aware of this, and went out of his way to reassure Kiefer and readers that he is his own man.

There are a lot of good reasons to do that.

First, of course, it would appear (even to a non-ethics expert such as me) that it is simply the right thing to do. As Montgomery said, “I can’t use the criminal-justice system to effect a policy outcome if I don’t have the evidence or the ability to prosecute a case ethically in the first place.”

It may be a sign of how far we have fallen in Arizona that a statement like that yields a sigh of relief in a reader; anywhere else in the country, it would cause readers to say, “Well, duh; that’s Crim Law 101.”

Second, it may be the right thing for Bill Montgomery to do—for himself. It can’t have escaped his attention that waging high-profile war with other agencies, county supervisors and even judges did not translate into fame, fortune and a life of unalloyed praise for his predecessor and the sheriff. Sure, it’s always possible that Andrew Thomas may be hosting his own Fox News show one of these days, but right now? He’s just practicing law, and continuing to stare at the possibility of formal bar charges.

And the sheriff? Well, he’s been a little quieter lately. Elections may have consequences, but so do active county supervisors, and an inquisitive Department of Justice.

You can read the entire story here.

Tomorrow, I’ll write about other leaders who are buoyed along the political current by supporters, some of whom the leaders wish would stay in the shadows. Sometimes it works, but sometimes …

(Full disclosure: I am a State Bar employee, but I have nothing to do with the Lawyer Regulation Department. And in the case of Andy Thomas, even the Lawyer Regulation Department is out of that loop. By Arizona Supreme Court order, it is being investigated by Colorado lawyer John Gleason; the probable-cause panelist is former Arizona Chief Justice Charles Jones. So far, no formal charges have been brought in the matter. So my musings are just that.)