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.

The Los Abogados annual banquet, Oct. 19, 2013.

The Los Abogados annual banquet, Oct. 19, 2013.

I keep hearing that “people don’t want to join things anymore.” Or this: “Our organization can’t draw lawyers to events like we used to; law firms and attorneys don’t value networking events as they once did.”

Maybe. Or maybe your events are lackluster, and you’re failing to engage lawyers in ways that have meaning. Los Abogados clearly works from a different playbook.

That was my thought as I attended Saturday evening’s Los Abogados annual banquet. The packed room at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs was a rebuke to those who declare the days of attorney interaction dead and gone.

And if you get out of your office a good amount, you’ll see that kind of robust fellowship replicated at numerous other events throughout the year. For example, I was unable to attend the recent Native American Bar Association Seven Generations Award Ceremony and Dinner, but reports are that it was filled with happy lawyers. I also heard that the State Bar’s own mixer last Thursday at Kitchen 56 Restaurant was gangbusters. Well done to the Bar’s Young Lawyers Division, Solo Practitioner and Small Firm Section, Tax Law Section and the Arizona Jewish Lawyers Association.)

Back at the Los Abogados event, there was all you could expect (silent auction, food, drink, music, conversation, awards) and more—fantastic (professional) dancers and a closing act of three opera singers. Even if you’ve never gotten closer to The Three Tenors than a PBS special, you knew you were in the midst of greatness at the Pointe Hilton.

Professional dancers wow the crowd at the Los Abogados banquet, Oct. 19, 2013.

Professional dancers wow the crowd at the Los Abogados banquet, Oct. 19, 2013.

So the next time someone bemoans declining attendance at (fill in the blank) the Lions Club, or Kiwanis, or whatever, be sure you point out that busy attorneys remain connected, but they’ve reallocated their time. They seek events and organizations that provide a deep connection, and those groups that give back in meaningful ways.

And remember: Connectivity is more than just one night; it continues throughout the year. Therefore, you should follow them on Facebook here.

In that vein, it’s not too early to point out that the Arizona Asian American Bar Association annual banquet will be on Thursday, February 18, 2014. Go on; mark it on your calendar. It’ll be at C-Fu Gourmet in Chandler, where the multi-course evening would suggest you begin skipping lunches now to prepare for the feast.

Let’s get connected.

At the end of the program, opera surprised and delighted attendees.

At the end of the program, opera surprised and delighted attendees.

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.

Judge Alex Kozinski

Next Tuesday, the Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, Alex Kozinski, will speak with members of the legal community when he visits Tucson. His stop is being hosted by Los Abogados, the state’s Hispanic bar association.

The event will be from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 21, in the Jury Assembly Room of the Evo A. DeConcini United States Courthouse. The address is 405 W. Congress, Tucson 85701.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to interview the then-Ninth Circuit Chief Judge, Arizona’s own Mary Schroeder. The judge in that position always is able to provide insights from one of the nation’s most influential circuits, and I expect Tuesday’s event will be the same.

Admission to the Judge Kozinski event is free, but seats may go fast. I hope to see you there. (Click on the flier below for more detail.)

C-Fu Gourmet in Chandler, Arizona, is known to have some of the best dim sum in the state (some say it’s the best). And that may be the ideal location for the Arizona Asian American Bar Association annual banquet. For dim sum stands for the proposition that people enjoy the opportunity to have little plates of a variety of things. Even if something is not to your taste, wait a minute and another plate will be by.

Kind of like diversity. There is value to variety, even if you don’t partake in everything.

(I wrote about the Asian American Bar banquet and C-Fu before, here and here.)

So what makes the multiple-plates approach especially appropriate for the Asian Bar’s annual dinner? It is their selection of entertainment and keynote speakers for this evening. It’s a veritable stir-fry.

The entertainment will be partly provided by a Canadian American lawyer known most recently for his distaste for a focus on “hyphenated Americans.” Tom Horne, now the Attorney General of Arizona, took on the ethnic-studies program in the Tucson Unified School District when he was Superintendent of Public Instruction—a battle that continues. He has since been one of the biggest supporters of Arizona’s own melding of criminal and immigration law, in the form of SB1070.

Tom Horne, Arizona Attorney General

Ladies and gentlemen, the Asian American Bar gives you … Tom Horne on piano! (You’ll see I omitted the hyphen.)

Not sure you’ll partake? Well, wait just a few minutes, because the keynote speaker is coming to the stage. He is an accomplished California American lawyer who is the President and Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles. He and APALC are known most recently for their distaste for SB1070. In fact, APALC has been a leader in organizing plaintiffs and challenging the law.

On keynote duties, we have … Stewart Kwoh!

(Full disclosure: (1) My wife is on the board of the Arizona chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League; the national association is a plaintiff. (2) As a young California lawyer, I worked along with APALC on a large-scale immigration case regarding Thai workers. I have met Mr. Kwoh but do not know him well.)

Does each know the other will be there? Would either be pleased or dismayed? If they were asked, really nicely, to sing a duet, would they?

The Asian American Bar may have dipped farther into the combination plates than they would have liked. As word began to emerge about the evening’s pianist, Asian American community members voiced their upset. They had worked hard against the law, and hearing the ivories tickled by its advocate was not their idea of a good time. Some people who have attended before have refused to attend. And some community associations may have opted not to purchase a table.

I spoke with a leader of Los Abogados about the developments. That association of Hispanic lawyers has been vocal in its opposition to SB1070. Was it disturbed that a sister bar would invite one of the law’s most prominent defenders, even if only for a musical interlude?

Stewart Kwoh, Asian Pacific American Legal Center

The Los Abogados leader was extremely polite about the affair. He acknowledged that many were surprised at the news. But he said it had led to extensive and productive conversations with the Asian Bar leadership. He said that Los Abogados had stressed that, despite popular belief, SB1070 is not a “Hispanic” issue; instead, the group sees it as a civil-rights issue that affects everyone.

Would Los Abogados be purchasing a table? No, the leader said, but they did not purchase one every year anyway. And individual Los Abogados members may be purchasing for themselves.

I will be there tonight, and I expect I’ll take some photos and maybe even some video of the musical entertainment. More to come.

In the meantime, pass the noodles.