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.

8 play by Dustin Lance Black in AZAs I sidled my way last night past the crowds into the Herberger Theater in downtown Phoenix, I must admit I was skeptical. An entire play constructed mainly of a trial transcript? Really?

Anyone who has been to a trial or two knows you would need a genius writer to make that come together into dramatic arts. And so the play “8” had one: Dustin Lance Black had whittled a trial into an evening that was provocative, funny and compelling.

I mentioned the play last Friday, and I was pleased that my family and I were able to attend. “8” tells the story of the trial over the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage.

Black drew on his mondo skills to shape a play comprised almost entirely of the trial transcript. There are a few moments that are tough sledding, especially, I imagine, for the many nonlawyers in the house. Arguing over the standard of review is often a game-changer in a case, but it’s an oddly shaped building block in crafting compelling theater.

Performers in the play 8, Herberger Center Theatre, Phoenix, May 7, 2013

Performers in the play 8, Herberger Center Theatre, Phoenix, May 7, 2013

There are only a few of those moments, though. The craft and the words selected were amazing. And what consistently impressed was the quality of the performances. Non-actors almost all, the cast delivered a rousing and entirely convincing play.

I know that one actor–director was cast, to fabulous results. Ron May is the founder and artistic director of Stray Cat Theatre, and his rendition of a witness was wow-inspiring. Cast as David Blankenhorn, May encapsulated eloquently the ideologue who had never been challenged to defend his beliefs before he sat in a witness chair. As he is cross-examined by David Boies of Bush v. Gore fame (played superbly by lawyer and Phoenix Councilman Tom Simplot), bluster turns to anger turns to frustration turns to near-total capitulation. As the steam escapes from Blankenhorn’s pompous world view, the state’s case deflates before the audience’s eyes. If there’s one thing we know, it’s more Ron May, please.

View from Balcony, Row EE (hint: buy tickets earlier).

View from Balcony, Row EE (hint: buy tickets earlier).

The strong performing continued with the attorneys. Amazing work was delivered by Grant Woods (as Ted Olson), Nicole France Stanton (as plaintiff Sandy Stier), Terry Goddard (as trial Judge Vaughn Walker), and Bill Sheppard.

A marvelous moment occurred after the play and during a brief audience-question session. One man (whom I couldn’t see from the nosebleed section) rose to praise Grant Woods. The speaker said that when he was a young Assistant Attorney General 23 years ago, he had serious concerns about being a gay man in the large public agency. But he said that Woods had told him that all he would ever be judged on in that office was merit, the quality of his work. That compelling memory led to a standing ovation for the former Attorney General, which grew to include his own fellow performers.

(Years ago, I had the chance to appear on the Herberger stage in a father–daughter performance with our wonderfully ever-patient Willa. I thought I had turned in a pretty good show. But then I saw Grant Woods get a well-deserved standing ovation, so I think I’m done.)

Grant Woods gets a standing ovation, Herberger Theatre Center, May 7, 2013.

Grant Woods gets a standing ovation, Herberger Theatre Center, May 7, 2013.

My family and I greatly enjoyed the show. And I must add what especially struck me (caution: lawyer moment approaching):

It was remarkable to see, via the true-to-life transcripts, the power that an actual trial may have. In an age when trials are rarer and rarer and they are derided as the ultimate failure of negotiated resolution, it’s worth remembering that truth often peeks out of that ancient construct. Outside the courtroom, lying, puffery, bullying and rants may win the day. But seated in that witness chair, required to endure a series of simple questions, those resting on a crumbling foundation often founder. Except for the sociopathic, misstatements and worse cause discomfort and anxiety when one is required to raise a hand and utter an oath.

Not such a bad message to learn, for lawyers and nonlawyers alike.

Congratulations to all who participated.

8 the Play bare stage

stale-fortune-cookie

Cookies may be stale, but the message may last.

Three weeks may be too far past an event to report much value—that is, for most events. But a few speakers I heard in March—and failed to report on in a timely way—still yielded insights I believe are worth sharing. This cookie, as they say, ain’t stale.

The first event to share—the one most distant in time—is the annual Learned Hand Awards luncheon. As always, the three honorees were well chosen. And, in a Learned Hand tradition, just as much was expected of the introducer’s speech as was of the honoree herself.

Justice Scott Bales emceed, and he hit exactly the right note by honoring the anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright. In a ballroom full of lawyers, the reference was spot on.

Nicole France Stanton at the Learned Hand Awards luncheon, 2013

Nicole France Stanton at the Learned Hand Awards luncheon, 2013

The first award—called the Emerging Leadership Award—went to Nicole France Stanton. Andy Sherwood explained her talented background, as well as her commitment to fight bullying and cystic fibrosis.

Stanton urged all lawyers to find their ethical center.

“Finding your voice as a leader at a law firm does not have to wait until you’re an equity partner,” she concluded.

Terry Fenzl introduces Terry Goddard.

Terry Fenzl introduces Terry Goddard.

Terry Fenzl took a more humorous tack in his introduction of the next honoree, Terry Goddard. He displayed—with accompanying ribbing—a photo of a boyish Goddard being sworn in as Phoenix Mayor in 1984.

But like Learned Hand, Fenzl said, Goddard always spoke up for the rule of law, in the fight over polygamy in a Utah border town, in the use of methamphetamine, in mortgage fraud.

Goddard used his speech indicate his gratitude—a commonplace in remarks like these—but also to hurl some political barbs.

“I remember I got to discuss constitutional law with Russell Pearce,” he said. “Maybe not the highest point of my career, but memorable nonetheless.”

He criticized the efforts of legislators to alter the law regarding recall elections, including making the new law’s effects retroactive.

“They claimed it was the will of the people,” Goddard said, “and not just trying to save Joe Arpaio’s behind.”

“Respect for the rule of law is not common in Arizona,” he concluded.

Charles "Chick" Arnold, 2013 Learned Hand Awards

Charles “Chick” Arnold, 2013 Learned Hand Awards

The final honoree was Charles “Chick” Arnold, of Arnold v. Sarn fame. It was his lawsuit that led to massive changes in the way the State of Arizona addressed the needs of it mentally ill residents.

Arnold’s advocate was Judge James McDougall, and he provided eloquent testimony as to Arnold’s fitness for the award. He recalled how the then-Maricopa County Public Fiduciary filed a class action suit on behalf of his 600 wards, demanding that the state live up to its statutory obligations to provide a “continuum of services” for those who had been deinstitutionalized.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors were angered by the action and fired Arnold—only to have to reinstate him after a separate lawsuit.

The stories reflecting courage were touching and remarkable. And that pointed out a fact that I should have noticed in covering years of Hand lunches: The speeches tend to get better and better as the lunch goes on. Not because the speech drafters vary widely in skill level—they all tend to be excellent writers. No, the difference comes from the vastness of life stories that the (usually) older lawyers can marshall.

And so the day opened with ethics and then moved seamlessly to the rule of law, featured by both Goddard and Arnold. Terry Goddard reflected on his career through the prism of that rule, and Arnold did also, always believing that his obligation to his wards trumped his duty to his employer. And for that, all of Arizona should be grateful.

Terry Goddard congratulates Chick Arnold following the 2013 Learned Hand Awards

Terry Goddard congratulates Chick Arnold following the 2013 Learned Hand Awards