We wrestle with the age-old question: Is a hot dog a sandwich? What a time to be alive.

We wrestle with the age-old question: Is a hot dog a sandwich? What a time to be alive.

You know that universal rule about food? “Never go to the grocery store when you’re hungry.”

Turns out, the same is true for blog writing. For when I write on the intersection of food and law, I often find myself yearning for the first—and ignoring the second.

So on Change of Venue Friday, I raise that age-old and tasty question: What is a sandwich?

What is a sandwich? Have I completely lost it?

Not at all. In fact, let’s open this blog-meal by watching this great Atlantic video, which explains the tax consequences (at least in New York State) that flow from whether a food product is deemed a sandwich:

At least one British journalist has been flummoxed by this quintessential American question, as you can see here, where the whole enwrapped story of “sandwich ontology” is explored.

As the writer winds his way toward his hot-dog-IS-a-sandwich conclusion (madness!), he cannot resist an arcane side-dish that examines America as a delicatessen whose daily special is mimicry:

“America is a country founded by people from someplace else on ideas borrowed from someplace else, ultimately to try to distinguish itself from every place else. It is a fraught balance of identity – to take and be of an other, yet define yourself by contrast to that other. This is the strange impulse of our ‘exceptionalism’, to always borrow something and modify it slightly, then declare the end result definitively, uniquely American.”

Tell me he didn’t put quotation marks around exceptionalism! Oh, yes he did. (Plus, he insists on clinging to the quotation-marks-inside-the-comma rule. God save the Queen.)

True sandwich experts concur in this well-seasoned debate. Dagwood sandwich blondie hot dog

True sandwich experts concur in this well-seasoned debate.

Yes, that video and news story are from a year or two ago, so you may wonder what’s the delicious news hook. Well, you may be pleased to know that The Big Question has been answered definitively—though I doubt you’ll like the result:

Yes, a hot dog is a sandwich.

At least according to those noobs at the Merriam–Webster Dictionary. In your busy summer, you may have missed the news that the dictionary folks made the determination. I leave it to the brilliant and entirely partisan correspondents at Eater to tell you the real deal.

Where do I stand on the sandwich question? Probably more aligned with Eater and the Atlantic video. But I’ve been told that intelligent people may disagree (ha!), so you may come to your own conclusions. Just don’t bring up lettuce wraps; there are limits to my definitional patience.

In the meantime, have a great weekend, whether it’s highlighted by a roll, bread, pita, or any other delicious envelopment.

Hot dog: Compact? Absolutely. Delicious? Indisputably. A sandwich? Grrr.

Hot dog: Compact? Absolutely. Delicious? Indisputably. A sandwich? Grrr.

Arizona Attorney Magazine, March 2015 Dark Money cover

The way elections are funded may be one of the more contentious features of our republic in 2015. In fact, even use of the term “Dark Money” upsets some partisans, who believe it casts a negative inference over those who believe campaign speech-supporters need not be identified.

(We covered the topic in three articles published in the March issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine.)

On Tuesday, April 28, the Goldwater Institute is hosting a debate on the topic. It will be held at the downtown Phoenix Cronkite School of Journalism from 7 to 9 pm.

The debate will be free and open to the public. But you also can watch it streamed live here.

The debaters will be:

  • Kurt Altman, national policy adviser and general counsel, Goldwater Institute
  • Allen Dickerson, Legal Director, Center for Competitive Politics
  • Tom Irvine, legal expert on election law, ASU Alumni Law Group
  • Daniel Barr, First Amendment expert, Perkins Coie law firm

It will be moderated by Robert Robb, a columnist and editorial board member at the Arizona Republic.

The specific question they will address in the Dark Money debate? Is anonymous political speech protected by the First Amendment?

The hashtag for the event will be #DarkMoneyDebate.

And here is more background from the organizers (can you tell where they stand on the issue?):

“Anonymous political speech has been a cherished principle since the earliest days of the American republic. The ability to speak anonymously—and to privately support others who speak on your behalf—has played a central role in historical milestones from the ratification of the U.S. Constitution to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s.”

“Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizen United, there has been a new outcry from some critics that the public deserves to know who seeks to influence elections by giving money to private political groups. Describing anonymous giving as “dark money,” these critics want new laws that compel independent groups to give the names and addresses of their donors to the government.”

“On Tuesday, April 28, four legal experts will debate whether this campaign against anonymous giving benefits or harms free speech and democratic participation.”

In what has become an annual tradition, on Wednesday, the Arizona Women Lawyers Association hosted a debate of the candidates for Arizona Attorney General. Held at the University Club in Phoenix, it featured a packed-to-the-gills room, candidates committed to their goals, and organizers who were committed to: (1) a value-packed event and (2) getting people out on time.

Organizers succeeded on both counts. The candidates? Well, attendees may each have had their own favorites.

AWLA Arizona Women Lawyers Association logoThe format was composed of 10-minute candidate statements, followed by 10-minute rebuttals, and finally audience question. The candidates are Republican Mark Brnovich and Democrat Felecia Rotellini.

Rather than give a blow-by-blow, let me share a few of the candidates’ main points.

Mark Brnovich speaks at the debate of Arizona Attorney General candidates at a forum sponsored by the Arizona Women Lawyers Association, Sept. 24, 2014.

Mark Brnovich speaks at the debate of Arizona Attorney General candidates at a forum sponsored by the Arizona Women Lawyers Association, Sept. 24, 2014.

Brnovich:

“We as a society cannot tolerate when our most vulnerable are unprotected.”

“I am fully ready to push back against the Obama administration and its job-killing carbon regulations, which have a devastating impact on the economy and jobs.”

“He is such a fiscal conservative, he won’t even buy vowels for his last name.” (quoting Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery)

Felecia Rotellini speaks at the debate of Arizona Attorney General candidates at a forum sponsored by the Arizona Women Lawyers Association, Sept. 24, 2014.

Felecia Rotellini speaks at the debate of Arizona Attorney General candidates at a forum sponsored by the Arizona Women Lawyers Association, Sept. 24, 2014.

Rotellini:

“I want to return the Attorney General’s Office to its core mission; it should be an independent watchdog for the people. I worked to be sure mortgage fraud was made a criminal act.”

“I will take politics out of the office. When you’re in the trenches, you’re colorblind. There’s no red; there’s no blue.”

“It is important that the Attorney General not be an ideologue, and that the elected official appreciates the awesome power of the office.”

On rebuttal, the candidates became considerably more impassioned. In response to Rotellini comments, Brnovich told the audience that he is not an ideologue or an extremist.

Rotellini countered by discussing her opponent’s positions on pro-choice issues, SB1062, the Corrections Corporation of America, and Medicaid restoration, among other topics. She also mentioned the $700,000 in “dark money,” which she claims came from the Koch Brothers, which was spent in the primary in a successful effort to defeat incumbent Tom Horne.

Audience questions covered sex trafficking, same-sex marriage laws, lawsuits regarding federal mandates, and what changes each would make in the ranks of career prosecutors in the Attorney General’s Office.

Both candidates urged attendees to view all their positions on their respective websites:

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

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.