Arizona_Supreme_Court_SealNews from the Arizona Supreme Court:

The Administrative Office of the Courts is pleased to announce the approval of Arizona’s application for funding through the John R. Justice Program. The goal of the JRJ Program is to recruit and retain qualified prosecutors and public defenders by lessening the burden of student loan obligations.

“Acknowledging the need to recruit and retain lawyers who ensure the integrity of our criminal justice system, Congress enacted the John R. Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act (42 U.S.C. § 3797cc-21) to encourage qualified attorneys to choose and continue in careers as prosecutors and public defenders. The John R. Justice Program (JRJ), named for the late John Reid, Justice of South Carolina, provides loan repayment assistance for state and federal public defenders and state prosecutors who agree to remain employed as public defenders and prosecutors for at least three years.”

The Bureau of Justice Assistance has authorized a funding allotment of $35,767 to Arizona for this program. The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) is supporting the effort in Arizona by acting as administrator for the JRJ Program. Last year, the AOC awarded JRJ grant funding to 25 public defenders and prosecutors statewide. Fortunately, this year, federal funding availability remained relatively the same as last year; as such, the AOC will strive to award the JRJ grant to similar numbers of public sector attorneys this year.

Prosecutors and public defenders are encouraged to apply as soon as possible to be considered for awards under the JRJ Program. Applications must be postmarked by Friday, October 30, 2015.

Information about eligibility, the application process and required materials can be found on the Arizona Judicial Branch website.

Panelists of "Lawyering Political Environment," June 19, 2013

Panelists of “Lawyering in a Political Environment,” June 19, 2013

The State Bar Convention offers a multitude of learning opportunities. But I’m only one guy, so I opted to attend a morning seminar titled “Lawyering in a Political Environment.” It was deemed a President’s Award winner, and it seemed a good way to start my own 2013 Convention experience.

L to R: Kelly Schwab, Joe Kanefield

L to R: Kelly Schwab, Joe Kanefield

Here’s what I discovered: The first seminar in the first day of the annual State Bar Convention largely had to do with a lawyer who had been disbarred by the State Bar. Quite a morning. But in that regard, the educational offering was probably unique among seminars that could be offered at bar conferences nationwide. Arizona is an interesting place.

The conversation was far ranging, but panelists and their moderator Robert Robb found themselves, more often than not, addressing ethical challenges created by former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas—now disbarred. And because of that, the seminar was a timely and relevant presentation to a packed house of attorneys who had learned firsthand about the risks of blending law and politics.

The panel was a powerhouse one:

  • Former United States Attorney Paul Charlton
  • Former Governor’s Counsel Joe Kanefield
  • Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery
  • Former Pinal County Attorney Jim Walsh
  • Attorney Kelly Schwab

Robb asked panelists to offer their general views about lawyering in a public setting.

Paul Charlton opened by saying that “Public service is a noble enterprise. Every day your one, monolithic goal is to give back.”

L to R: Robert Robb. Jim Walsh, Paul Charlton

L to R: Robert Robb, Jim Walsh, Paul Charlton

He continued by discussing his most difficult decision as United States Attorney—one that had career-changing implications.

“My most difficult decision? Whether to seek the death penalty.”

Charlton made a choice that did not square with the thinking of the United States Attorney General and so, he said, “I got fired for it.”

“How do you deal with those who take a political view of the world, or with those who think the death penalty should be sought—not pursued—in every situation?”

Bill Montgomery stepped into an office in which the top prosecutor had made politicizing legal decisions the norm. Montgomery says his focus has been on changing that atmosphere.

“It’s about knowing what’s right and wrong, not what’s right and left.”

Joe Kanefield recalled the biggest challenge faced by lawyers in state government: “resisting pressure to pursue legal remedies for political challenges.”

Moderator Robb asked the panel if elected attorneys are “special” because they serve voters first.

“Andy Thomas thought he was special,” said Robb. “But who is the client? Should the criminal and civil functions be separated” to reduce the possibility of overreaching?

No, said Charlton. “I’d say that’s a solution in search of a problem,” because instances like that are rare, “except that we do have Andrew Thomas in our recent history.”

“But that was an aberration,” he continued. “Though it was awful for anyone caught in Thomas’ crosshairs,” the legal community generally “catches” such behavior before it becomes egregious.

Robb kept the focus on specifics when spoke about Bill Montgomery’s recent legal advice to County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox that she had a conflict in regard to the county’s civil suit involving Sheriff Joe Arpaio. But the focus remained on a former prominent attorney.

Charlton said, “It was right to go after Andrew Thomas; it was right to take his license.”

L to R: Paul CHarlton, Bill Montgomery, Kelly Schwab

L to R: Paul Charlton, Bill Montgomery, Kelly Schwab

The whirlwind seminar included conversation about prosecutions of former Congressman Rick Renzi, Senator Ted Stevens, major league ballplayer Roger Clemens and others. And it extended beyond the practical challenges that prosecutors—especially elected prosecutors—face daily. It winded up with a discussion of possible changes to the Ethical Rules to accommodate the unique situations they may face. And at least one panelist recommended that young line prosecutors need a place to turn when challenges arise.

“We used to call them an ombudsman,” said Jim Walsh. “But whatever they’re called, we need someone in prosecutor offices that those attorneys can go to” when they develop the sense they are being asked to do questionable things to further political ends.

Judge John Leonardo

Last week, Arizona got a new top prosecutor.

John Leonardo, former Superior Court Judge for Pima County, was confirmed on Friday as the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona.

Judge Leonardo had been nominated by President Barack Obama in March. The position had been open since then-U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke resigned on August 30, 2011, in the wake of the Fast & Furious gun-walking scandal. (I wrote about his resignation here.)

Some news stories on the new appointment pointed out that Judge Leonardo had dismissed an indictment brought against Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, finding it was retaliatory. Does that dismissal indicate how the new prosecutor may approach probes of the Maricopa County Sheriff? At least one news outlet suggests it does.

The Daily Star also reported on the appointment:

“U.S. Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain issued a joint statement announcing the confirmation, saying, ‘We are pleased that the Senate confirmed Judge John Leonardo to serve as U.S. Attorney.’

‘Judge Leonardo’s decade of experience on the bench and previous work in the U.S. Attorney’s Office will be strong assets as he continues his public service in this new, challenging role.’

Leonardo said in an email that the president still needs to sign his commission before he can be sworn in, which should occur next week.

‘I am very pleased and honored by the Senate confirmation … and I am looking forward to serving the people of Arizona in this new capacity.’”

So my question is: Should we at Arizona Attorney interview the newest United States Attorney for a Q&A?

We have published Q&As with a few of the recent top prosecutors—Paul Charlton and Dennis Burke.

If you do think we should interview Judge Leonardo, what questions would you like to see him answer? Post your questions in the comments below, or write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Natural disasters have a way of seeming unnatural when they strike areas unaccustomed to them.

That was the case yesterday, when an earthquake hit the Eastern Seaboard. Its epicenter was Mineral, Virginia, but its effects were felt as far north as Canada.

Initial estimates were that the quake was more shake than break (especially compared to those typically experienced on the West Coast), though I’ve seen some photos of extensive damage. I guess it’s all about your perspective.

Here is a news story about people’s reactions in Washington DC:

On the lawyerly side of the equation, though, be sure you watch this other video. It is Reuters coverage of the press briefing at which prosecutors announced they that they were filing a motion to dismiss charges against former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The earthquake struck early into the media event.

To his credit, the prosecutor who was speaking when the shaking started stayed cool as a cucumber, even as the room began to be evacuated.

But did he have even one “gulp” moment? I don’t mean about the seismic event itself. I mean about what Nature, or a higher power, may have been saying in regard to the prosecutorial decision. “Everybody’s a critic,” he must have thought, his legs swaying beneath him.

The timing makes you wonder.

Hon. Ron Reinstein (ret.) speaks at ASU Law School, Nov. 16, 2010

Yesterday, a program at ASU Law School turned a light on what may be one of the most important issues in law today.

“The White House Subcommittee on Forensic Science: Policies and Issues” was the title, and it covered developments—or the lack of them—that have followed on the nearly two years since the National Academy of Sciences issued a compelling report about the state of forensic science today.

(We covered the report’s release in Arizona Attorney in April 2009. You can read it here.)

The speaker was Ron Reinstein, former Maricopa County Superior Court Judge who now works at the Administrative Office of the Courts. His experience in the area is broad and deep, and he currently chairs the state’s Forensic Science Advisory Committee.

ASU’s Law & Science Student Association was the host, and it gave Reinstein 50 minutes to explain “what’s happening in the world of forensic science.” He did quite a job in his allotted time.

He admitted, though, that the White House Subcommittee is pretty stringent on what can and cannot be said about the group’s workings, at least until it issues its report. As he landed on his last slide, he said, “We’re only allowed to do that PowerPoint.”

Of course, he was able to explain far more than that about the world outside the subcommittee.

The takeaway message was that much work had been accomplished over the past year at the federal, state and local level. Unfortunately, that work has translated very little into changes in approach and operations in forensic labs. “To be honest,” he said, “I am not that encouraged about state government responses around the country.”

Even in terms of education, Reinstein admitted that few judges have read the NAS report, and many others are even unaware that it exists. A survey of Texas judges showed that only 22 percent knew anything about it. “That’s kind of scary,” Reinstein said.

Much that was proposed in the NAS Report is unlikely to come to pass, he said. That includes an effort to require that all forensic labs be independent of law enforcement agencies. “That was dead on arrival,” he said.

(For insight into why that is important, read an article in the November issue of the ABA Journal, titled “CSI Breakdown.” As it says, “Some police and prosecutors tend to view government-employed forensic scientists, including medical examiners, not as independent experts but as members of the prosecution’s ‘team.’” The article is here.)

Courts, too, have not taken a leadership position on forcing changes in the forensic science regimen. “Judges don’t feel comfortable taking the lead on this,” he explained, adding that there have been few challenges by defense counsel based on the NAS findings that would allow judges to rule on admissibility. (One exception he mentioned is Nancy Gertner, a federal judge for the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. You can read more about her here.)

The speaker showed some silver lining in terms of education. He’s been pleased at the focus on the topic at Arizona Judicial Council conferences, and at the State Bar Convention. He said that people interested in the topic are watching to see what if anything the state’s new Attorney General, Tom Horne, and the Legislature adopt in regard to forensic science. And he is confident that “The Supreme Court wants to see change occur”; he mentioned Justices Hurwitz and Bales, and former Justice Ryan, as three who have indicated a strong desire to see positive change happen soon.

In the same vein, his Forensic Science Advisory Committee has developed a six-month course that will educate prosecutors and defense attorneys—25 of each—on all aspects of forensic science. It will meet weekly from January through May.

Look for more coverage in Arizona Attorney in 2011.

Here are more photos from the event.

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