Arizona lawyer—and our arts competition music winner—Stu De Haan made a devilish argument about free speech and freedom of religion.

Arizona lawyer—and our arts competition music winner—Stu De Haan made a devilish argument about free speech and freedom of religion.

If politics and religion are two topics we should never discuss in polite company, the Phoenix City Council seems like the ideal place to address both.

This week has seen a firestorm of hellish indignation over the news that a group of satanists petitioned the Phoenix city clerk’s office to offer the “invocation” at an upcoming City Council meeting. After reviewing the request and the fact that municipalities cannot be in the business of “picking winners and losers” when it comes to deities, it OKed the request.

As Phoenix City Attorney Brad Holm said in a statement, “Consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s direction, the city cannot dictate religious viewpoints or the content of a prayer.”

Imagine that—following the law.

Cue the choirs, celestial and otherwise.

Read a news story about the devilish quandary here.

To the surprise of almost no one, there is not unanimous agreement with the decision—though the February 17 meeting will likely be standing-room only due to the controversy.

One Phoenix councilman said it’s “a dumb idea,” and another insisted the Satanists should have been denied and simply let them sue. Knowing there’s often fire where there’s smoke, media are all over this. Here’s a video news story:

I confess I’m surprised by the uproar. I’ve been in that chamber many times, and I’m pretty sure I’ve spotted Lucifer at numerous zoning hearings. And who hasn’t smelled the distinct odor of sulfur as countless variance requests are rubber-stamped? Or maybe I need to get my eyes and nose checked.

Wherever you stand, this is a fantastic lesson in the First Amendment, playing out right in the heart of our state. You’re welcome, America.

Stu De Haan and his instrument in Arizona Attorney Magazine, May 2015.

Stu De Haan and his instrument in Arizona Attorney Magazine, May 2015.

And yes, there is an even more intimate legal angle to this. Spokesman and legal adviser to the Satanic Temple (and a “Satanic Templar”) is Arizona lawyer Stu De Haan. And here at Arizona Attorney Magazine, we are a big fan of him—and his music.

Those with good memories will recall that Stu was the winner in the Music category in our 2015 Creative Arts Competition. He appeared on our cover and inside pages, and we featured “Don’t Get Stuck in a Roadside Ditch” online. That song is by his band Scar Eater, “a five piece post-hardcore band from Tucson.”

As Stu described his song, “This song is about facing fears, shedding one’s negative past, and embracing an aggressive but positive outlook on the inevitable difficulties of life.”

You can read more what I wrote about Stu, and listen to “Roadside Ditch,” here.

Arizona Attorney Magazine May 2015 cover arts competition winnersA final thought: It bears noting that Stu and his fellow Satanic Templar Michelle Shortt are traveling north from Tucson to deliver an invocation—and make a point, I suppose—because the Tucson City Council gets to the work of its meetings without bothering with a prayer of any kind. No muss, no fuss.

Imagine that—focusing on governing.

As we head into our Friday, please enjoy “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones. “Pleased to meet you; hope you guess my name.”

Have a terrific—and free-speech-filled—weekend.

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A new Phoenix Compliance Assistance Program aims to assist residents whose civil fines have led to the loss of a driver's license or worse.

A new Phoenix Compliance Assistance Program aims to assist residents whose civil fines have led to the loss of a driver’s license or worse.

This week, the City of Phoenix and its Municipal Court announced a new program that aims to counter situations that have too often have led people into financial straits and even into the justice system.

The new “Compliance Assistance Program” is “designed to give residents with past-due traffic fines a path to repay the debts and work towards restoring driving privileges.”

The past year has provided numerous examples from around the country in which residents faced financial ruin and increased interaction with police because of an accumulation of unpaid tickets, fines, and penalties. But these issues didn’t just face residents of Ferguson, Missouri, or other newsworthy places; they face residents of Arizona cities too. The Phoenix program is a salutary effort to address those problems; you can read more about it here.

As Megan Cassidy reports:

“The Compliance Assistance Program is designed to break what can become a crippling cycle of fines and subsequent driving penalties: Unpaid fines can lead to a suspended license. And driving on a suspended license can lead to criminal charges and jail time for the working poor. As of Dec. 31, Phoenix was owed more than $283 million in overdue municipal fines, fees and restitution dating back decades. As many as 6,000 people currently have their licenses suspended because of delinquent Phoenix fines.”

Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego

Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego

Quoted in the story and a key driver of the change is Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego.

“We want people to be able to pay their fines in a sustainable way,” she said. “If you push people to the brink of their financial ability, the consequences are more negative.”

New Chief Presiding Municipal Judge B. Don Taylor came into the job via a contentious process, but his advocacy for these changes is a welcome sign for a progressive court, one that has substantial daily interactions with residents. Though the program is just a first step, residents should be heartened by the actions of Judge Taylor and Councilwoman Gallego, who “said she made reforming the Municipal Court system a priority in her decision-making when the City Council selected a new presiding municipal judge last year.”

As Judge Taylor says in the Arizona Republic story, “It’s really providing a mechanism that people haven’t really had before. I think creating something that will allow them to be compliant, get the license back, really helps them be in a good place.”

If the name Don Taylor sounds familiar, it may be because he’s a longtime lawyer, former prosecutor, and even a story-subject in Arizona Attorney Magazine. In 2007, we spoke with him as he worked at the International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague.

Congratulations on the new program.

Attorney B. Don Taylor in the February 2007 Arizona Attorney, describing his work at The Hague.

Attorney B. Don Taylor in the February 2007 Arizona Attorney, describing his work at The Hague.

Scott Fistler (aka Cesar Chavez) speaks at a Phoenix hearing, June 17, 2014.

Scott Fistler (aka Cesar Chavez) speaks at a Phoenix hearing, June 17, 2014.

It is hard to pass up commenting on a newspaper story titled “Cesar Chavez to be removed from ballot, plans to appeal.”

No, I wasn’t reading The Onion (much). This headline and story comes from the Arizona Republic.

And yes, there is a legal angle: a hearing this week in which the plaintiff alleged that the candidate—named Cesar Chavez—should be removed from the primary ballot for Congress, because … well, that’s where it got (even more) interesting. Here’s how Rebekah Sanders opened her article:

“A judge ruled Tuesday that Cesar Chavez, the former Republican who changed his name from Scott Fistler, will be removed from the primary ballot in the 7th Congressional District because hundreds of his signatures were invalid.”

“Chavez, who acted as his own attorney in a hearing in which he veered from comical antics to tearful testimony, vowed to appeal the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court.”

“He asked supporters to ‘funnel money’ to his campaign and find him legal counsel.”

You’re welcome, readers. Be sure to read Rebekah’s whole story here. And you also should follow her on Twitter (whence she posted updates from the cringe-worthy trial).

(What, you wonder if this went national and if Stephen Colbert covered the Arizona topic? You know he did!)

As Sanders pointed out, the candidate’s name—before his legal shift to adopt the name of a Hispanic American hero—was Scott Fistler.

Scott Fistler, center, speaks at the Urban Choices Phoenix District 4 forum, May 15, 2013.

Scott Fistler, center, speaks at the Urban Choices Phoenix District 4 forum, May 15, 2013.

As it turns out, I had the opportunity to interact with Scott (pre-Cesar) in May 2013. That’s when I moderated two candidate forums for those seeking Phoenix City Council seats. Scott wanted to become the new District 4 representative. (The other debate was for District 8.)

My view of the Phoenix City Council District 4 candidates, May 13, 2013. Scott Fistler is in the center (pink shirt).

My view of the Phoenix City Council District 4 candidates, May 15, 2013. Scott Fistler is in the center (pink shirt).

If you have a few minutes, you might enjoy watching a little of the District 4 forum, hosted by Urban Choices, during which Scott Fistler holds forth in multiple colorful ways (de colores, I guess you’d say?). It was held at the Viad Building in midtown Phoenix.

I also had the opportunity to channel my inner actor; that shtick runs from about 19:20 (until about 24:45).

Here is the District 4 debate with Fistler.

The District 8 forum is here. (It was held at the stellar Levine Machine on Grant Street in Phoenix’s Warehouse District.)

 

Here are two more shots from the forums:

Screen-grab of me moderating the Phoenix City Council District 4 forum, May 15, 2013.

Screen-grab of me moderating the Phoenix City Council District 4 forum, May 15, 2013.

Candidates and moderator Tim Eigo face the audience at the Phoenix City Council forunm May 16, 2013.

Candidates and moderator Tim Eigo face the audience at the Phoenix City Council District 8 forum, May 16, 2013.

Phoenix City Council panel Urban Choices Phx We WantThis week, Phoenix residents and those interested in good and responsive government (including, I hope, lawyers) may attend a few panel discussions that will signal their city’s possible direction. The events sponsored by the group Urban Choices will include candidates for two City Council districts.

I’m pleased to report that I will be moderating both discussions, to occur on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

Phoenix City Council panel Urban Choices Levine Machine, 605 E. Grant

Levine Machine, 605 E. Grant, Phoenix

The “community conversations” with candidates from Districts 4 and 8 aim to address topics of most interest to downtown residents and businesses. They include developing economic models that focus on diverse, new industries rather than a single cyclical real estate industry; and getting big successes out of transit-oriented development.

As organizers say, “Our collective goal is to ensure we get ‘The PHX We Want’ through the best possible elected representation.”

City Council panel Urban Choices Playhouse on the Park, 1850 N. Central

Playhouse on the Park, 1850 N. Central, Phoenix

Please mark your calendar and plan to attend. Invite your friends and colleagues as well.

More information, including an agenda, map, and RSVP, is available on the Facebook event invitations (click the links below for more information):

Read the complete flier and information below.

If you can’t attend, feel free to send me a question or two that you’d like me to ask the candidates.

Phoenix City Council panel Urban Choices Invitation revised