This week's journalism conference in Phoenix covers many topics of public interest. spj valley of the sun header cropped

This week’s journalism conference in Phoenix covers many topics of public interest.

I am pleased to share news of two conferences in Phoenix this week (April 28-30) that may serve your needs—in multiple ways. Aimed primarily at journalists, they will be of interest to anyone attuned to public policy, communications, criminal justice, and immigration.

I am helping to organize one of the journo conferences, with the Society of Professional Journalists, and I urge you to consider attending both of them. Links and agendas to each are below:

The Society of Professional Journalists Western Regional conference is on Friday and Saturday, April 29 (evening reception) and 30 (all day):

  • The Friday evening reception will be at Macayo’s. The conference will be at the Heard Museum. And the post-conference mixer on Saturday evening will be at the Clarendon Hotel’s Sky Deck.
  • The keynote of Saturday’s offerings will be a one-on-one interview of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio with Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini (for reals).
  • The full conference schedule is here.

Unity Journalists for Diversity logoAnd the UNITY: Journalists for Diversity conference is on Friday, April 29 (all day) at the ASU Cronkite School in downtown Phoenix:

  • The full conference schedule is here.
  • A day before the summit, Thursday, April 28, UNITY in partnership with ONE Arizona will hold a free special town hall meeting and panel discussion on immigration. The town hall will take place at Puente Human Rights Movement from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Register here.
  • UNITY also will be hosting a free rooftop networking reception at Hotel San Carlos on Friday, April 29, immediately following the Regional Summit from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Heavy hors d’oeuvres and refreshments will be served. Register here.

I’m helping organize the SPJ event, and I’ll be attending the UNITY conference Friday too. For a pretty modest outlay of dollars, this looks like some great content. I hope you can attend some or all of this!

The American response to hateful words is traditionally more words. Is there a better way?

The American response to hateful words is traditionally more words. Is there a better way?

This spring saw a sometimes-troubling dialogue about campus speech erupt. Some of that dialogue was spurred by videotape catching the racist chants of members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity at the University of Oklahoma.

Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini wrote about the incident, and some of the reactions he’s gotten.

In it, Montini says he supports the school’s expulsion of students who perform that way. But he got pushback from an ASU student who said all speech should be permitted—even the offensive speech.

First Amendment challenges have never been more challenging.

I’ve written before about the difficulties a free society faces where speech is concerned. And the newest skirmishes remind me of a book I’ve touted in the past: The Harm in Hate Speech, by Jeremy Waldron.

In these United States, we have been taught to believe that (pretty much) all speech should be unregulated. But Waldron points out that the American view is not the only possible course.

Maybe the American view is correct. Maybe the only antidote to horrific speech is simply more speech, as if the latter will shout out the former.

But other nations—even many who have a rule of law we respect—take a decidedly different tack. Their approaches are founded on a belief that the public utterance of hateful speech can cause harm, even if it is not paired with criminal behaviors.

Harm in Hate Speech book cover Jeremy WaldronThose nations could be wrong, and “speech codes” find little support in the United States. But I wonder what would happen if the next time an incident of hate speech makes the national headlines, those in the majority culture took a rhetorical pass and remained silent for a bit. It might be enlightening to hear only from people of color on the topic of how to address hate speech.

Who knows? Their response may be the same, as we are all steeped in an American culture that insists, “I condemn your speech, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

But maybe not. Maybe the response will be more nuanced than simply calling for tolerance and more speech.

It is far too easy for those who are never affected by hate speech (except to find it vaguely distasteful) to insist that such utterances are a sad but necessary part of our republic. As I’ve written before, it is offensive to maintain a position that requires people in minority communities to carry the burden of daily insults so that an American sense of fair play can by upheld.

Sure, everyone’s opinion on hate speech is welcome. But I’d prefer if we gave prime position to those opinions that arise from minority communities. Does hate speech simply “come with democracy”? Or can words alone be such a debilitating harm that they should be addressed and maybe curtailed in some way?

What do you think? Write to me at

If you’re feeling the need to laugh (and who isn’t), a comedy concert may be just the ticket.

I’ve written before about the Phoenix Comedy Festival that is slated as a fundraiser for a first-in-the-nation Bill of Rights Monument. But today’s about the comedy, not the limestone slabs.

So before you do anything else, you may want to click here to purchase Comedy Festival tickets.

If you read my story on the Monument in the May Arizona Attorney Magazine (here’s hoping), then you may have been troubled that the link didn’t work. Apparently, Ticketmaster changed things around, or something. But none of that matters now, because you have the correct link. (See what I did there; I put the link in AGAIN, so you couldn’t miss it.)

And while you’re at it, I’ve learned that there is a more direct way to get to the page where you can donate for the Monument (and even specify the amendment you most support!). That link is here, on the MyBillofRights website.

So here’s hoping I see you on May 13. That is also Mother’s Day, so either we’re bringing our moms, or we have a lot of explaining to do. So while you’re at it, maybe you should buy two tickets. (It’s the least we can do for the hardest-working Bill of Rights ever!)

And because I like to support good writing (and not just limestone monoliths), here is an Arizona Republic column on the topic by E.J. Montini. Funny, funny stuff.

Let’s get laughing. It’s the patriotic thing to do.

As you read this, I am somewhere over the United States, stuck in a middle seat my  travel agent managed to secure for me. I’m winging my way to Washington DC, where I will make a presentation to a roomful of association publication experts. More on that later.

As much as I am looking forward to my conference, I am very sorry to miss a newsworthy event occurring in Phoenix today: the grand opening of a 21,000 square foot weGrow Marijuana Superstore.

Medical marijuana is in the news daily, along with the conflict it implicates between federal and state law. In fact, we are planning a story or two on the topic in an upcoming Arizona Attorney Magazine.

Are the state leaders who have halted developments in medical-marijuana merely seeking clarity through their lawsuit, or are they thwarting the will of the people? That is a question on the mind of many.

As an example of the controversy, read what E.J. Montini had to say in the Arizona Republic about medical marijuana earlier in the week.

And some have already established a legal defense fund “to protect Arizona Medical Marijuana rights.” (See the press release at the end of the post.)

That’s all well and good, but it’s hard for me to believe that I’ll miss the opening of a place dubbed “the Walmart of Weed.” As weGrow is careful to point out, they do not actually sell marijuana (read more about the company here). But on Wednesday, anyone interested in the next chapter of the state’s pot saga will be at 2937 W. Thomas Road, Phoenix, AZ (29th Ave. & Thomas Rd.), where there will be a panel discussion, ribbon-cutting and grand-opening festival.

Oh well, better luck next time.

Here is the press release:

Legal Defense Fund Established to Protect the Rights of Arizonans and Suffering Patients Seeking Medical Marijuana 

Legality of Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Law Questioned

(Scottsdale, Arizona) – On the heels of a lawsuit filed by the State of Arizona to determine the legality of the recently enacted Medical Marijuana Law,  a legal defense fund, Don’t Let Medical Marijuana Die, has been established to protect the will of the voters and guarantee ill patients access to medication that relieves their pain and suffering.

The lawsuit, initiated by the Governor and the AZ Attorney General, puts the future of AZ’s Medical Marijuana Act in question and leaves sick and dying patients wondering when they will be able to relieve their pain and suffering.  At issue in the suit is whether AZ’s law can legally be enacted even though Federal law continues to make possession and distribution of marijuana illegal.  The suit seeks to obtain clarity regarding this seemingly conflicted legal status of medical marijuana laws.

Attorney Ryan Hurley leads the Medical Marijuana Division at Scottsdale’s Rose Law Firm.  While disappointed about the halt on Arizona’s Medical Marijuana program, he feels the lawsuit will ultimately be decided in favor of patients and states’ rights, “Health care providers and medical marijuana dispensary operators shouldn’t have to worry about federal prosecution for simply trying to treat sick patients. Ill patients should not have to worry about access to medication as they battle  HIV, cancer, spinal cord injuries, or multiple sclerosis, just to name a few.  Hopefully this fear of prosecution can be put to rest and the legality of State MMJ laws can finally be upheld.”

Don’t Let Medical Marijuana Die was formed to protect the rights of Arizonans and protect the dispensaries and health care providers who are simply trying to relieve the pain and suffering of their patients. It’s seeking donations to cover their legal expenses in this vitally important battle.  Here is a link to the organization’s website.

The Board Members include:

  • Dr. Daniel Rubin,  Medical Director of Naturopathic Specialists, LLC in Scottsdale, AZ, where he practices full time as a naturopathic oncologist
  • State Senator Robert Meza, a 3rd generation Phoenician who sits on many civic boards
  • Ari Schafer, President of the Civic Center Pharmacy, a locally and nationally recognized source of custom compounded medications not routinely available through the larger chain stores
  • Victor Ostrow, Former General Manager of Rawhide western theme park and a 37 year resident of Arizona. His work in promoting Arizona tourism includes past participation in the Valley of the Sun Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce 

These individuals have courageously stepped forward to protect the rights of countless Arizonans seeking relief from debilitating pain.

Overwhelmingly approved by voters in November 2010, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act legalizes medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. 16 other states have done the same.

On this Change of Venue Friday, I’d recommend a few articles that look at the criminal justice system.

First, surf over to the New Yorker. That’s where Jeffrey Toobin examines what’s happening to the death penalty in Texas. Once the nation’s leader in capital punishment, it is now talking a decidedly different tack. There may be a few reasons for that, but one of them may be the more sophisticated use of mitigation by defense lawyers. And Toobin adds that changes in prosecutors’ offices have played an important role too.

Jeffrey Toobin

So good is Toobin’s article that I am linking to it despite the fact that much of it is behind a paywall. Like many print publications, the New Yorker offers some content for free but really wants you to subscribe to get the rest. I read the whole thing, but the free abstract they provide is long, substantive and worth your time. And who knows: You may like it so much you’ll head over to a newsstand to pick up a copy.

The second article I’d recommend is E.J. Montini’s Arizona Republic column today on the law case surrounding the 1991 Buddhist Temple Murders.

E.J. Montini

We reported yesterday that the Ninth Circuit once again ruled to overturn the conviction of Johnathan Doody, based on the length and nature of the interrogation of the then-young defendant. (We also ran a book review of “Innocent Until Interrogated” by Gary Stuart, which examined the case. A portion of Gary’s book was a winner in the Arizona Attorney Creative Arts Competition in 2008.)

Montini spoke with a juror from the trial, who continues to aver that Doody was guilty. He says that the jury based their verdict on more than just the confession.

We might expect a juror to hold to that position. But the man’s comments are thoughtful and provide valuable insight into the process. Whether the State of Arizona decides to appeal again or prosecute again, insight into the system of interrogation and confession is always welcome.

Have a great weekend.

The Arizona coverage of a recent high-level attorney ethics investigation is pretty all-encompassing. So much so, that I doubted whether I would often have much to add in the media mix.

E.J. Montini

But the Arizona Republic’s drowsy coverage of the issue leaves so many open questions that a fella with his own keyboard has ample opportunity. Yesterday’s column by E.J. Montini continues in that vein. It may have been phoned in from some undisclosed location, but it sounds like it could have been written by his story subject.

It was just last week that John Gleason, the independent investigator named by the Arizona Supreme Court, announced the 34 ethics allegations that will likely form the basis for his formal charges, expected to come in January. Those charges will be leveled against former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and deputy attorneys Lisa Aubuchon and Rachel Alexander.

The press conference was instructive, but Robert Robb’s Arizona Republic column not long after was even more eye opening. I wrote about it here.

In it, he argued that Gleason’s report detailing the allegations was an example of gross overcharging. He assured readers he was not defending Thomas’s actions, but come on. 34 allegations?

I wondered whether Robb would provide any evidence for his statement that elected county attorneys throughout Arizona “uniformly reject” the proposition that the Ethical Rules constrain them as they do private-side attorneys. To date, he hasn’t provided statements agreeing with his supposition that elected lawyers are “lawyers-plus.” And because he said “uniformly,” he must be speaking about every one of those county attorneys, right?

Well, Sunday’s column by Montini demonstrates that Robb will not be the only Republic writer dead set on “praising Thomas with faint damn” (yes, I mean as opposed to damning him with faint praise). As Robb did, Montini first establishes his cred by waving his pen toward the fact that he does not like all of Thomas’s past actions (“Solid balanced journo bona fides? Check!”). And then he goes on to muddy some waters — all to the benefit of Andrew Thomas.

It begins with the second graf, where Montini (or Thomas, or whoever wrote this) says that the three-person discipline panel “will be convened by the State Bar of Arizona.”

Not true. That will be the Arizona Supreme Court’s role. The State Bar has nothing to do with this investigation and eventual prosecution—except that it is footing the bill.

He then goes on for an odd bit about how those who investigate Thomas also “hate” him.

I’ve worked with a lot of prosecutors, and I think “hate” may be a strong word to use about them. And I have never heard the Republic bemoan a dearth of love in prosecutors’ hearts; usually that paper demands swift and firm justice. (Maybe this signals the paper’s adopting a new compassionate view toward defendants and lawyer respondents—but somehow I doubt it applies outside this case.)

Soon after, Montini writes, “Among other things Gleason concluded, ‘The allegations of misconduct committed by Thomas and (former Deputy County Attorney Lisa) Aubuchon, if proven, warrant disbarment.’”

We only will deduct a half-point for that statement. Gleason was not aimlessly and venomously musing; he was quoting the ABA Standards on lawyer discipline. And usually, defendants and respondents want to be informed of what liability they may be up against. But Montini is stunned that a prosecutor would do such a thing. And that shock provides Thomas the chance to claim Gleason “hasn’t been fair throughout the process.”

Montini may not know this, but Thomas’s “not fair” statement is a pretty common claim by lawyers charged with ethical lapses. But how about some evidence of unfairness? None is provided.

The column’s worst failing, though, is this whopper, spoken by Thomas.

“I’m concerned about the fact that I’m apparently not going to have a lawyer” (other than himself).

Whoa, Nelly. Montini’s column makes it sound like the Supreme Court discipline process does not allow Thomas to be represented by a lawyer. If that’s the situation, let’s have a front-page story about it, because that would be news.

Thomas doesn’t expound on that claim, because dissecting it might show that the only debate is about whether the public will pay for his lawyer—NOT whether he gets a lawyer, which he certainly is permitted to have.

(Montini ends his column with Thomas saying that the investigation of his transgressions threatens “the rule of law.” We award Montini’s failure to comment on that statement a half point for chutzpah and irony.)

Reading Rob Robb and E.J. Montini tells us two things: the budget cuts at the Arizona Republic may have eliminated telephones from columnists’ desks, which could be used to check a couple of these facts.

And it reveals the approach that may be taken in the next year of the Republic’s legal ethics coverage. I mean, it’s no crime to like the former county attorney; they’re entitled to their favorites. But the newspaper’s long-term love–like relationship with him is a bit much; maybe they should get a room (at the new court tower!).

Until then, some fact-checking would be nice.

Read Montini’s complete column here.

Arizona: You'll Say WOW Every Time

Yesterday’s Arizona Republic featured the musings of columnist E.J. Montini, who sought an answer to the question, “Since when are sham candidates bad?”

If you ask me, that’s a highly insightful question. Of course, that may be due to the fact that I asked pretty much the same question on Friday. But great minds think alike (I’m from the East; he’s from the East. I’m Italian; he’s Italian. It’s scary, I tell ya.)

When I first read the news story, it was bad enough. Political types recruiting like-minded political types to run on their opponent’s party line: That’s old-school chicanery.

But when it was clear that it was drifters and street denizens who had been added to the ballot, that excavated a new basement for political dirty tricks. Even for Arizona events, readers must have felt like they needed a shower (but at least for the first time, voters may have something in common with candidates).

Is the man(ny) with the pedi the answer to Arizona's many problems?

As I thought it over, though, I began to think that the interlopers may be onto something. One of the most “prominent” of the sham candidates, Anthony “Pa” Goshorn, is a pedicab driver in Tempe.

That may make him uniquely qualified to be a leader in our state.

First, he has provided actual service to residents. We voters just ain’t used to that.

Second, the way things are going, the pedicab may soon become the primary basis of the Arizona economy. It could be used to ferry schoolchildren to their over-enrolled classrooms. It could replace city and regional mass-transportation, which has had to slash budgets and cut routes. And it could be a grassroots rebirth of the state’s tourism industry, which we wrote about before. The three-wheeled conveyance could make the nation forget about that SB1070 brouhaha. Ironically, making Phoenix streets look more like Saigon’s could help make people stop talking about immigration.

Win – win – win.

Sham – wow!