Vietnam Memorial (photo by David Selden, winner of our May 2010 Creative Arts Competition for Photography)

Happy Change of Venue Friday. More important, Happy Veterans Day.

I offer two brief items for your review on this significant holiday.

First, in case you missed it, go back and read this essay by Marcy Karin and Carissa Hessick from Thursday’s Arizona Republic. Both authors are educators at the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

They open their op-ed by detailing the employment challenge that vets face:

“This week, we honor Arizona’s 600,000 veterans, many who proudly served our country in Middle East war zones during the past decade. With more troops set to return home, Veterans Day provides us with an opportunity to recognize the difficulties service members face reintegrating into civilian life through changes to employment resources and the criminal-justice system.

Carissa Hessick

“Combat service takes a heavy toll. Physical impairments like hearing loss and traumatic brain and spinal-cord injuries are common. Studies also indicate almost 35 percent of veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. These ailments many times lead to homelessness and substance abuse. Work is hard to find, and keeping a job is difficult.

“Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have a national unemployment rate of 11.7 percent. Locally, a recently returned Army National Guard unit had a 50 percent unemployment rate. Veterans are returning home to a tight job market, and weary employers may not understand the skills these job-seekers developed in the military.”

Marcy Karin

Karin and Hessick explain the good that has flowed from federal legislation that protects veterans’ jobs, and from the institution of veterans courts in some jurisdictions (we covered one example in Arizona Attorney Magazine here).

But they urge further legal changes, including considering military service as a mitigating factor in all crimes, not just low-level ones. What do you think?

A second item worth your attention this weekend is the presence in Arizona of a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The revered structure in Washington, DC, designed by architect Maya Lin, is an emotional testament to what was sacrificed by so many. Though millions visit the Memorial, many more are unable to travel to Washington—which makes a replica a pretty compelling idea.

This will be erected in Tempe through the weekend. Read more about it here.

The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall travels down Mill Avenue on its way to Tempe Beach Park for display. (David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic)

Have a great weekend.

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.