Harper Lee's "Go Set a Watchman" may be informative reading in a presidential election year.

Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” may be informative reading in a presidential election year.

I haven’t read the “new” book by Harper Lee titled “Go Set a Watchman.” Should I? Have you? Will you?

If the author’s name doesn’t ring bells, her more prominent book’s title may, for “To Kill a Mockingbird” has moved generations of readers and led to a fabulously successful movie version. (Though it took me quite a while to get around to reading it, as I described here.) The film was impactful enough that the State Bar of Arizona screened it for a fund-raising evening a few years ago.

Maybe the power of “Mockingbird” is most clearly viewed through the upset people have over the possibility of a newly released book that includes the character Atticus Finch. Simply put, they love that character, and anything that sullies or even complicates their view of the lawyer who does good, best as he can, is not something they want to engage with.

I’ll admit, I’ve at least somewhat shared that view. Besides the fact that sequels usually pale in comparison to the original, I also felt that there are few enough portrayals of compassionate lawyers. Can’t we keep Atticus just as he is? Please?

Two things changed my mind. One was a great magazine story (let’s hear it for the power of magazines). And the other was a political town hall.

For the ABA Journal, Deborah Cassens Weiss examines some previous scholarship about “Mockingbird” in light of the release of “Watchman.”

As Weiss ends her article:

“Though Watchman isn’t Harper Lee’s best work, [Harvard Law Professor Randall] Kennedy says, it ‘does reveal more starkly the complexity of Atticus Finch, her most admired character. Go Set a Watchman demands that its readers abandon the immature sentimentality ingrained by middle school lessons about the nobility of the white savior and the mesmerizing performance of Gregory Peck in the film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird.’”

Ouch. Is sentimentality blocking readers from a fuller and truer understanding of American history? Chagrined, we must admit that such a thing has happened time and again. So am I and others doing that when we seal our “favorite” Atticus in amber?

One clue that the scholars are on the right track is visible when you read the comments following the ABA Journal story. As the saying goes, Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

The second element that leads me to get over my bromance with Atticus Finch occurred this past Saturday, at a town hall featuring two presidential candidates.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Phoenix, Ariz., July 16 2015.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Phoenix, Ariz., July 16 2015.

I attended portions of the Netroots Nation annual conference mainly to cover the three or so “legalish” panel discussions they scheduled, featuring topics like redistricting and Supreme Court jurisprudence. But in the process, I managed to get into the Phoenix Convention Center room where journalist Jose Antonio Vargas would interview U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, each vying for the Democratic nomination.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Phoenix, Ariz., July 18, 2015

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Phoenix, Ariz., July 18, 2015

Gov. Martin O'Malley, Phoenix, Ariz., July 18, 2015

Gov. Martin O’Malley, Phoenix, Ariz., July 18, 2015

What I and 3,000 of my new friends expected was a moderated discussion. What we got was a highly effective staged protest by “Black Lives Matter” activists. About five minutes into the dialogue with O’Malley, activists rose from their seats or came from the back of the room, demanding to be heard.

You may have read about the event in the national news, for example, here and here.

Black Lives Matter activist Tia Oso confronts Gov. Martin O'Malley, July 18, 2015

Black Lives Matter activist Tia Oso confronts Gov. Martin O’Malley, July 18, 2015

What surprised was not that there was a protest—after all, this has been a year marked by flash-points in the intersection of policing and race. What surprised were the insufficient responses of the candidates. And that was followed by the irritation of many in the audience that the protestors spoke up at all, or for so long, or so stridently. And I heard from many audience members who professed to be pleased with their candidates’ responses, “given the circumstances.”

(For an insightful analysis of the Saturday event, read attorney Bob Lord, who managed to speak with a protest organizer.)

But in the era of Ferguson—and of Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and Freddie Gray and Michael Brown—it takes a special kind of denial to insist that the view of your candidate not be disturbed, distorted or made more complex by Saturday’s events. Both candidates may have had smart and compassionate things to say about race, the justice system, and people’s lives. But neither said those things. That is worth noting. They had the past tumultuous year-plus to think over their response to these tragedies. They did not take that opportunity. That is worth noting.

One thing that tells me is that the candidates and their staffs should immediately read the report issued just last week on the topic from the ABA and the NAACP. I covered it here.

So for those reasons and more, I’ll get a copy of “Go Set a Watchman.” Sure, the later years of Atticus may show a man who is not a shining beacon of enlightened views. But, sometime between now and a presidential election, we all should grow a little more open to complexity—in our novels, in our history, and in our public policy.

Let me know if you’re reading the book, and what you think. Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

In the meantime, here are some of my tweets from the town hall. You can follow me and read more of my coverage at @azatty.

Screen-shot of State Bar Governors election for Pinal County, which closes this Wednesday, May 20.

Screen-shot of State Bar Governors election for Pinal County, which closes this Wednesday, May 20.

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum—the election forum, that is.

This month, elections are open for State Bar of Arizona Board of Governors positions for attorney from Pinal County, which is District 8. If you’re in that district and haven’t voted, get to it; all voting is online, and polls close at 5:00 pm this Wednesday, May 20.

More detail about the election is here.

There are a few noteworthy things about that page. First, the functionality is pretty cool. Clicking on the candidates causes their photos to increase in size and their candidate statement to appear. Nicely done by someone in the Bar’s IT world.

But the other interesting things is about the candidate statements themselves. One of the candidates opted not to post a statement (though he may have sent something to voting attorneys directly, as he is permitted to do). And the other candidate statement—well, I’ll get to that in a minute.

The statements (or lack thereof) surprised me, as we published statements for each of the candidates in the print version of Arizona Attorney. You can read them online here. And below is a screen shot of those statements in the May issue.

Pinal County candidate statements in the May 2015 Arizona Attorney Magazine.

Pinal County candidate statements in the May 2015 Arizona Attorney Magazine.

So the changes in the online versions caught my attention. And in fact, one of the statements takes an election tack I have never seen before. As Bret Huggins writes:

“I find myself in a pleasant predicament. I was nominated for the position of Pinal County representative on the State Bar Board of Governors before I found out Denis Fitzgibbons would be a candidate as well.”

“Denis Fitzgibbons is a wonderful lawyer and a very good man.  Denis would be an excellent representative for all of us practicing in Pinal County.”

“Denis runs a prestigious and successful law firm with his brother Dave in Casa Grande. Their practice is primarily business and civil litigation. The law firm has several lawyers and a quality support staff.”

Mr. Huggins has more to say (and you should read it). But he concludes, “I would not be disappointed in the least if I lose this election to such a strong opponent.”

I will be very interested to see how this election concludes. But has anyone seen such a dialogue in Bar elections? If so, I’d like to know. Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

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.”

At its regular annual meeting at the State Bar Convention this afternoon, the State Bar of Arizona Board of Governors elected its slate of officers for the coming year:

  • President: Amelia Craig Cramer
  • President-Elect: Whitney Cunningham
  • First Vice President: Richard T. Platt
  • Second Vice President: Bryan B. Chambers
  • Secretary/Treasurer: Lisa Loo

Following board bylaws, the new slate of officers assume their positions at the close of the annual meeting.


State Bar Board of Governors, 2012-13

The Arizona Attorney General released this press release today in regard to the Independent Redistricting Commission:

Tom Horne

Attorney General

Office of the Arizona Attorney General

Executive Office

Amy Rezzonico

Press Secretary


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Contact:  Amy Rezzonico (602) 542-8019


PHOENIX (Thursday, July 21, 2011)  —  Attorney General Tom Horne has authorized his office to conduct an initial investigation of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission based on reports that raise questions about the Commission’s compliance with Arizona’s Open Meeting Law and procurement laws when it recently entered into a contract with Strategic Telemetry to provide mapping consultant services.

 “I need to emphasize very clearly that this is an initial investigation that will attempt to determine if any violations actually occurred,” Horne said.  “I am concerned about reports that have raised questions about some of the procedural actions taken by the commission, and I am committed to finding out whether those concerns warrant any further investigation.  If this initial investigation finds that laws have been violated, we will proceed accordingly.”

Is it an exaggeration to say that a case being argued at the U.S. Supreme Court today could be the Miranda ruling of campaign finance?

Well, maybe. But in terms of Arizona facts that contribute to national law, today’s arguments pack a wallop.

The oral argument is in regard to the matching-funds provision of Arizona’s clean elections statute, and it involves two consolidated cases: McComish v. Bennett and Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett.

The Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments this morning to reverse a decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld matching funds.

Here is a good analysis of the case’s importance.

And here is a local story, which includes a lawyerly tale of how people agree on who gets the privilege of arguing to the high Court. Once the Court opted to disallow a time-split between appellants Institute for Justice and the Goldwater Institute, how could the eager lawyers come to agreement on which would speak? It came down to a coin toss.

Finally, the Goldwater Institute has posted online all of the case filings. You can read the merits brief and the reply brief (and a whole lot more) here. And the Court’s own docket, including the Questions Presented, is here.

Arizona and the rest of the country saw a political wave wash over elected offices yesterday. Pundits attributed it to discontent with the current administration. But it may have to do with science, some say.

Suspicions about a “political vortex” had been percolating for some time, said Ralph Beerbohm, a climate and astrology scientist at Embry–Riddle University. The mass of voter-induced change that grew this fall was so great, he said, that experts began to believe a “cosmological shift” was in the works.

Carnegie Mellon scientist Audrey DuBay agreed. The expert on geologic formations and their surrounding chakras presented an August paper at a national conference that examined “Steeped in Rand Paul: The Impact of Seismic Shifts on Party Politics.”

“Discontent with health insurance reform can only be part of the explanation,” said DuBay. “But the tidal wave of change the country is experiencing almost certainly comes from a deeper source. I think it is a geomagnetic source.”

Scientific consensus on that possibility crested last night, when the mid-term elections—a bloodbath for Democrats—coincided with another literally Earth-shaking event.

Bristol Palin with her dance partner Mark Ballas

“No one, and I mean no one, expected that Bristol Palin would be retained on Dancing With the Stars,” said Carl Schripke, senior foxtrot expert at the National Academy of Sciences. “No one saw that coming.”

If an objectively weaker dancer could be sustained on the ABC program, he said, while “stars” of noticeably greater skills could be “voted out,” our electorate must be in the grip of a cosmologic “mind-meld” that favors Republicans—and their children.

Even as experts agree that a seismic shift is occurring, the consequences are unknown.

“Clearly, a political vortex has descended on the United States,” said Schripke. “But more research is desperately needed.”

Among the open questions are how long the vortex will last, whom it will affect, and how it skipped over some geologic formations like Nevada and Vermont.

“Are the beneficiaries just elected officials?” Carnegie Mellon’s DuBay mused. “Or could sudden good fortune flow to any registered Republican?”

Local results suggest the benefits may trickle down.

Mesa resident Arthur Frock has been voting Republican since his first election in 1956. And Wednesday morning saw some amazing results.

“I didn’t think [Republican Attorney General candidate] Tom Horne could win this thing,” Frock said. “But this morning I see he did—and the nut grass that’s been plaguing my front lawn for years has disappeared—overnight.”

Embry–Riddle’s Beerbohm urged more study, but also action.

“We’ve always believed that Democrats benefit most from vortexes,” he said, citing past medical marijuana law successes. “But the chakra may have turned. There is so much we don’t know.”

“As a scientist, I am baffled, and I can’t wait to get into the lab to look at the Republican-success data,” Beerbohm said. “But if I were a registered Republican, I would not sit back and wait for the results of controlled experiments, which could take months.”

“I would go out—now—and buy a lottery ticket. Maybe two. I mean, this can’t just be politics. This is science.”

... and I did, too.

Tonight, many political junkies like me will be gathered around their TVs, or computers, or hand-held devices. Our faces will be cast in the luminous glow of screens large and small as we await the outcome of election 2010. After what seems like a year of negative campaigning, we finally get to learn: Will the Marxists win, or the Nazis?

I joke, but unfortunately, that appears to be the drain we’re circling in these final hours. So I wondered if there was anything out there in the media that held the power to surprise or maybe, just maybe, delight.

I may have found it.

The Arizona Republic today offered a small item—nearly a squib—that may provide more value than most of their ballyhooed endorsements. Here is the story in its entirety:

“We’re streaming Arizona Republic Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Steve Benson live tonight from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Arizona time).

“He’ll draw reader requests live and you can watch. Want Benson to draw one of your election-night ideas? Maybe illustrate a certain candidate or a certain issue?

The story goes on to instruct Web readers: “Type your request in the box below and he’ll see what he can do.”


The story and the video feed (live this evening) are here.

As I type this, I’m looking at a Benson cartoon that I am privileged to call my own. It came my way via a silent auction. It was held as a fundraiser at the 2006 annual conference of the SPJ, held that August. Its focus on the freedom of the press was tailor-made for a crowd of journos.

Steve Benson cartoon in my office

In fact, there were a lot of bids on the work that night, but ultimately my opponent was winnowed down to a reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. We went tit for tat, bid for bid, until I pointed out that Steve Benson was an Arizona home-town success story, and I wasn’t walking away from the table without the piece. The Buckeye folded soon after that. I was then the proud owner of a piece of Benson’s own pen-and-ink muck-raking.

Here are some more photos of my Benson cartoon. And be sure to send the cartoonist your ideas for tonight’s political-art event. Let me know if he takes you up on your idea.


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