Former U.S. Alberto Gonzales

Former U.S. Alberto Gonzales

A Wednesday event brings a figure of international renown to Phoenix—and with it, a pointed voice of opposition.

At the Sandra Day O’Connor Federal Courthouse, former United States Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will speak at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute event. The keynote speaker has been involved in controversial legal matters, and it appears the local Caucus representative and Phoenix chapter president of the CHCI Alumni Association, attorney Juan Rocha, is prepared to address a number of those issues, as he wrote to me, “In so many words, I plan to ask him questions about national security, executive power, et cetera—which are highly relevant today.”

You can read more about the event here.

As the Caucus Facebook page describes the speaker:

“Attorney General Gonzales is the first Hispanic to be named United States Attorney General. From 2005 to 2007, he served as Attorney General Under President George W. Bush. Before his appointment as the country’s top lawyer, Attorney General Gonzales led the White House Office of Legal Counsel. Prior to serving in the White House, he was a partner at the international law firm of Vinson and Elkins, in Houston, Texas, and later served as a Texas Supreme Court Justice. Attorney General Gonzales will discuss national security, executive power, and Latinos in the legal profession, among other topics.”

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute logoTo recall a few of the reasons that General Gonzales is a controversial choice, you might read this or many articles on his tenure.

Soon after getting the event notice, I was copied on a letter of complaint from attorney Chris Ford, on behalf of the Executive Committee of the Central Arizona Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. It opens:

“I write on behalf of the Executive Committee of the Central Arizona Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which urges you to withdraw your invitation to Alberto Gonzales to speak at your event scheduled for February 26, 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona, ‘A Conversation with former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.’ Alberto Gonzales presided over a truly shameful period at the Justice Department, employing contrived legal positions to justify the use of torture on wartime captives; expansion of secret overseas prisons where torture was carried out; and domestic surveillance that since his tenure has mushroomed to truly astonishing, police-state proportions.1 Moreover, Gonzales resigned in disgrace in 2007, leaving behind a Justice Department whose mission was blurred by partisan politics.2 As further explained below, Alberto Gonzales is not a legitimate choice for speaker at an event put on by a group whose trademarked slogan is ‘Developing the Next Generation of Latino Leaders.’”

National Lawyers Guild NLG logo“Gonzales was a primary architect of what history likely will record as the U.S. Government’s worst and most destructive foreign policy failure: the abandonment of the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War and the resort to torture of prisoners in blatant violation of that Convention and of international law.3

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1 See, e.g. Dan Eggen and Michael A. Fletcher, Embattled Gonzales Resigns, Washington Post, Aug. 27, 2007, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2007/08/27/AR2007082700372.html; Aaron Sankin, Daniel Ellsberg On NSA Spying: We’re A Turnkey Away From A Police State,’ The Huffington Post, June 12, 2013, at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/12/daniel-ellsberg-nsa-spying_n_3429694.html (“foundation has been set” for police state; “It could happen overnight”).

2 Dan Eggen and Michael A. Fletcher, supra note 1; Steven Lee Myers and Philip Shenon, Embattled Attorney General Resigns, New York Times, August 27, 2007, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/27/AR2007082700372.html.

3 Dan Eggen and Michael A. Fletcher, supra note 1; Alberto R. Gonzales, Memorandum to the President, January 25, 2002, at http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB127/02.01.25.pdf.

(I have pasted in below images of the five-page letter.)

I contacted the Caucus in Washington, seeking their response to this letter of opposition. Spokesman Scott Gunderson Rosa pointed me to a letter of response sent by Juan Rocha. Here is the text of his complete letter (I’ve also pasted in an image of it below):

“On behalf of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) and the CHCI Alumni Association (CHCI-AA) of Phoenix, AZ Alumni Chapter, we appreciate your concerns about our event with former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.”

“Though we understand your opposition to Mr. Gonzales and his tenure as U.S. Attorney General; however, CHCl is nevertheless committed to the open discussion and dialogue of ideas and opinions. Just last year, we hosted author and writer, Junot Diaz, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his stories on multiculturalism. Indeed, our lecture series is meant to stimulate thought and discussion, regardless of the speaker. Moreover, CHCI, as you know, is a non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization; as such, our sponsoring this event is in no way an endorsement of the views, opinions, or ideas of our guest speakers, nor by hosting this event is it our attempt to influence public opinion, public policy, or the law.”

“We invite you to attend this event, where you will have the opportunity to ask Mr. Gonzales his views about the issues raised in your letter.”

“Finally, if you’re interested in co-sponsoring an event with us in the future, please let us know; we would be delighted to work with you.”

Two other local organizations are involved with the event in various ways.

Los Abogados, the Hispanic bar association, was approached by organizers and asked whether they would co-sponsor the event. Los Abogados President Ed Maldonado confirmed his board’s decision: “Our board voted to not officially participate in this particular event.”

los abogados-web-logoEd added, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. We respect the NLG’s comment on Gonzales’ appearance in our state.”

I asked Ed if Los Abogados’ decision to decline was based on the financial amount, or on a concern about the keynote speaker who had been invited. He responded, “Unfortunately I can’t comment any further without getting into the discussion of our board, and I cannot do that. We voted not to officially sponsor the event. We also did not join in or sign onto any letters. So the only official position I can comment on is what has been stated already.”

Meanwhile, Quarles & Brady issued a press release stating that it would be a sponsor of the Caucus’s lecture series. The February 19 release opens, “The national law firm of Quarles & Brady LLP today announced that it will be a sponsor of the Phoenix Alumni Chapter’s Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute lecture series this month. Labor & Employment Group associate Marian M. Zapata-Rossa will present the opening remarks and introduce the guest speaker, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.”

The complete press release is here.

Curious if the controversy troubled Quarles, I asked law firm leaders if they had a comment. Here are the February 23 remarks I received from the firm. Phoenix office managing partner Nicole France Stanton wrote:

NIcole France Stanton, managing partner, Quarles & Brady Phoenix office

Nicole France Stanton, managing partner, Quarles & Brady Phoenix office

“At Quarles & Brady, diversity is a part of our mission. For more than two decades, the firm has been committed to an aggressive agenda designed to promote and achieve diversity at all levels, which includes sponsoring diverse groups, speakers and topics such as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (“CHCI”) lecture series this month featuring the former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as its guest speaker. In addition,  we are also engaged in several  ongoing initiatives that advance the firm’s diversity goal of greater inclusion, understanding, respect and opportunity including our Women in Leadership Program,  Attorney Recruiting, Retention and Promotion (Minority Scholarships and Internships, Tribal Law Summer Associate program) and Family-Friendly Policies (including LGBT Domestic Partner Benefits).”

“We are proud to have a founding member of the CHCI Phoenix Alumni Chapter as part of our team at Quarles & Brady, and are explicitly supporting diversity through this sponsorship.”

“We will welcome an extraordinarily diverse group to the program this week, including local leaders and attorneys, members of the Arizona Latino Caucus, the CHCI Phoenix Alumni Chapter, and Arizona District Court Judges.”

If you are planning to attend Wednesday’s event (and are not affiliated with any of the organizations or sponsors) and would like to write a guest blog post following up on his remarks, please contact me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

And here are the letters of oppition and the response letter (click to enlarge).

Response from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute to National Lawyers Guild letter of opposition.

Judge Alex Kozinski

On February 21, Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski visited Arizona at the invitation of two law groups.

Juan Rocha, an Assistant Federal Public Defender on behalf of Los Abogados Hispanic Bar Association, invited the Chief. (Recently Juan was published in Arizona Attorney Magazine on the topic of immigration and Operation Streamline. I wrote about it here. You can read Juan’s article here.)

Another organizing sponsor was the Arizona Minority Bar Association.

We’ll have a news story about the event in the April issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine.

More photos are available at the magazine’s Facebook page.

“It’s the economy, stupid,” may be the recurring voter mantra, according to a story today in the Arizona Republic. According to reporter Daniel González, jobs and the economy have eclipsed immigration as a significant factor in voters’ assessment:

“Heading into the 2012 election season, illegal immigration is no longer the red-hot political issue it was just a few years ago.

“This month’s recall of Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce shows the subject has peaked, according to some analysts.”

Well, maybe. But if the Pearce recall was about immigration, as the reporter suggests it was, and that recall happened just 13 days ago, then it may be a bit early to declare immigration dead on arrival. (You can read the whole article here.)

The November issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine includes a pointed article on one approach to illegal immigration. It is a federal endeavor called Operation Streamline.

As author Juan Rocha explains:

“To reduce and deter illegal immigration, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched Operation Streamline. Under this program, the federal government prosecutes a large number of people who illegally enter (or leave) the United States, and imprisons them. But prosecuting mass numbers of people, every day, cannot be done without taking shortcuts.

“Though journalists and academicians have written articles about whether Operation Streamline is or is not good public policy, what follows is a description of the actual Streamline process from the perspective of a defense attorney who has worked in Yuma and Tucson, where the federal government executes streamline prosecutions.”

Read the complete article here.

Does Streamline cut corners, as Rocha maintains? Others have agreed with our author. For instance, here is an article by Stephen Lemons in which he calls the initiative an “immigration boondoggle.” (And the great illustration used at the top of this post came from that article; it was created by artist Brian Stauffer.)

Though the economy appears to be taking center stage in political battles, we’ll continue to examine immigration and border issues in the coming year.

In that regard, what would you like to see us cover? Let me know by commenting below.

Star Jones at Phoenix School of Law, Feb. 26, 2011

On a recent beautiful day in sunny Phoenix, hundreds of schoolkids gave up their Saturday to learn quite a bit about law and the legal profession. Accompanying them on February 26 was a handful of lawyers, who sacrificed their time to share some stories and advice with the high-schoolers.

More on this story will appear in the May Arizona Attorney Magazine. A highlight of the day had to be the remarks given by Star Jones. The lawyer and TV commentator wowed the attendees with her personal stories of accomplishment and challenge. It was a great coup to invite her to attend.

Also speaking were the son and daughter-in-law of Judge John Roll, murdered in January during the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson.

But in this post, I have to acknowledge the lawyers who gave of their time that Saturday. Thank you (in alphabetical order) to:

Also worthy of praise were the members of the State Bar of Arizona’s Diversity Department. Director I. Godwin Otu and Assistant Rosie Figueroa regularly step up to create great programs. This event was a partnership between the State Bar, DiscoverLaw.org and the Phoenix School of Law (where the event was held).

The Phoenix School of Law presented Otu and Rosie with a plaque to thank them for all their efforts. Well done, all.

Here are some more photos from the event.

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