This week's journalism conference in Phoenix covers many topics of public interest. spj valley of the sun header cropped

This week’s journalism conference in Phoenix covers many topics of public interest.

I am pleased to share news of two conferences in Phoenix this week (April 28-30) that may serve your needs—in multiple ways. Aimed primarily at journalists, they will be of interest to anyone attuned to public policy, communications, criminal justice, and immigration.

I am helping to organize one of the journo conferences, with the Society of Professional Journalists, and I urge you to consider attending both of them. Links and agendas to each are below:

The Society of Professional Journalists Western Regional conference is on Friday and Saturday, April 29 (evening reception) and 30 (all day):

  • The Friday evening reception will be at Macayo’s. The conference will be at the Heard Museum. And the post-conference mixer on Saturday evening will be at the Clarendon Hotel’s Sky Deck.
  • The keynote of Saturday’s offerings will be a one-on-one interview of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio with Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini (for reals).
  • The full conference schedule is here.

Unity Journalists for Diversity logoAnd the UNITY: Journalists for Diversity conference is on Friday, April 29 (all day) at the ASU Cronkite School in downtown Phoenix:

  • The full conference schedule is here.
  • A day before the summit, Thursday, April 28, UNITY in partnership with ONE Arizona will hold a free special town hall meeting and panel discussion on immigration. The town hall will take place at Puente Human Rights Movement from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Register here.
  • UNITY also will be hosting a free rooftop networking reception at Hotel San Carlos on Friday, April 29, immediately following the Regional Summit from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Heavy hors d’oeuvres and refreshments will be served. Register here.

I’m helping organize the SPJ event, and I’ll be attending the UNITY conference Friday too. For a pretty modest outlay of dollars, this looks like some great content. I hope you can attend some or all of this!

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The last word in the many chapters regarding the office of Sheriff Joe Arpaio have clearly not been written. Cue the ASU Journalism School.

The last word in the many chapters regarding the office of Sheriff Joe Arpaio have clearly not been written. Cue the ASU Journalism School.

Phoenix New Times co-founder Michael Lacey (photo: Patrick Breen/Ariz. Republic)

Phoenix New Times co-founder Michael Lacey (photo: Patrick Breen/Ariz. Republic)

For those friends around the country who gaze in amazement at the State of Arizona (not always for wonderful reasons), an announcement yesterday must have had them lighting up the twitterverse.

The story out of ASU’s journalism school is that a new endowed professorship, entirely focused on border issues, will be funded with a $2 million gift drawn from a legal settlement awarded following a lawsuit over policing practices at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, led by Joe Arpaio.

The donors are none other than Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, longtime journalists and publishers who were arrested by the office as they worked on stories related to it.

I leave you to muse on alternate lyrics for “I fought the law …

I don’t know if the lobbying has begun for an excellent borders prof, but I certainly hope they consider journalist Terry Greene Sterling. You can read more about her and her work here.

The ASU press release opens:

“Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, longtime owners of the national chain of Village Voice alternative weeklies, will use proceeds from a lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to establish a Chair in Borderlands Issues at the WalterCronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.”

Terry Greene Sterling

Terry Greene Sterling

“The $2 million gift will support an endowed chair who will lead a new program at the Cronkite School in which students will cover immigration and border issues in the U.S. and Mexico in both Spanish and English. The Lacey-Larkin Chair will be the only endowed chair in the country focused exclusively on Latino and borderlands coverage.”

“The Chair will direct advanced student journalists in a professional immersion program in which they will report, write and produce cutting-edge stories that will be distributed in English and Spanish to professional media outlets and will be prominently featured on the Cronkite News website and Arizona PBS newscasts. Additionally, the Lacey-Larkin Chair will comment on and write about border and immigration reporting nationally, promoting public scrutiny and serving as a national voice on coverage of issues affecting the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population.”

Illegal, by Terry Greene Sterling

Illegal, by Terry Greene Sterling

“The new Chair will be the cornerstone of a Cronkite specialization that will include three full-time professors. The Lacey-Larkin Chair and a second, university-funded, professor to be added next year will join Cronkite Professor Rick Rodriguez, former editor of the Sacramento Bee and the first Latino president of the American Society of News Editors, as Southwest Borderlands Professors.”

“Lacey and Larkin are drawing on proceeds from a $3.75 million settlement from Maricopa County in a widely publicized case that tested First Amendment rights as well as Arpaio’s policing practices. They said their gift to ASU grew out of their outrage at the way Mexican immigrants, in particular, have been treated by the sheriff’s office.”

Want more? (Sure, you do.) Read the Arizona Republic article here.

Recall has been a part of Arizona since it attained statehood, and the past few years have seen some remarkable instances of its use. This very week, organizers launched a recall effort against a legislator.

In that context, I’m pleased to provide space for an insightful guest post today, by attorney Joshua Spivak. Among other accomplishments, he wrote his master’s thesis on the subject of the history of the recall (“back in 1998 when no one was paying attention to the subject”). He has authored one of the very few peer-reviewed academic articles on the subject for California History, and he has begun work on a book on the subject. I welcome Joshua, and invite your own thoughts and comments. More of his bio, and link to his own blog, are below the post.

Here’s Joshua:

Following on the success of the 2011 ouster of State Senate President Russell Pearce, immigrants’ rights groups and others are now aiming at a more prominent official—Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The recall attempt has already seen some bizarre theater, but a look at the use of the recall around the country will show that the anti-Arpaio forces have a massive hill to climb in order to get anywhere near the ballot.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (photo by Gage Skidmore)

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (photo by Gage Skidmore)

The recall fight itself has already been the scene of some absurd behavior, with some pro-Arpaio groups looking to the courts to stop the recall. A pro-Arpaio group called the “Citizens To Protect Fair Election Results” sent a cease and desist letter to recall petitioners, claiming that the recall attempt “rises even to the level of criminal conspiracy and enterprise” and that it “violated the free speech, equal protection and due process rights of the majority of county voters who re-elected the sheriff.” While this type of argument is frequently made against recalls as a political statement, it is rare to see it used to threaten legal action. Most likely any such claim would eventually be laughed out of court.

There is also a more legitimate question of whether Arpaio can be recalled so soon after being reelected. Arizona has provision, which mimics that of many other states, stating that recalls cannot be launched until six months after an official is elected. However, unlike in most states, Arizona law appears to say that does not hold true for a reelection. Under this reading, there shouldn’t be any concern for the petitioners to start gathering signatures. In fact, they claim to already have 150,000.

These legal issues may not stop the recall—though they are likely to cost the recall proponents some money in battling them—it is actually practical considerations that are the bigger concern. The sheer number of signatures needed to get on the ballot—335,000 valid signatures from registered voters—is incredibly daunting. To put that in context, only three recalls in U.S. history have gotten on the ballot needing more signatures—California Governor Gray Davis in 2003 and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch in 2012. This would be by far the largest numbers of signatures ever needed to recall a local official.

There have been plenty of recalls attempted—47 of California Governors alone—but they rarely get on the ballot. Even those that do make usually need fewer signers. The recall attempt against Arizona Governor Evan Meacham in 1988 (which was short-circuited by his impeachment and conviction) needed only 216,746. There have been plenty of attempts to get massive amounts of signatures for other officials, but they invariably fail. In Michigan, petitioners reportedly got 500,000 signatures to recall the Governor. But that was nowhere near enough to get on the ballot.

But it is not just the sheer number of signatures that will cause a problem. Ancillary evidence suggests Arizona’s election commissions may take a stricter approach to signatures than in other states. In some recent recall attempts, Arizona seems to have tossed out signatures more frequently than other states. This would mean that the signature gatherers would need significantly more than 335,000 signatures to get on the ballot.

There is no clear answer on how many signatures are likely to fail. One Michigan observer claims that a 15 percent failure rate is a good rule of thumb. In California in 2003, the signature failure rate for the Gray Davis recall was 18 percent. Due to a quirk in Wisconsin’s law—the state allows all eligible voters to sign, as opposed to Arizona and other states that require the signers to be registered—the Scott Walker recall is not a good comparison.

In the Russell Pearce recall, where petitioners submitted more than 18,000 signatures, they eventually ruled that 10,365 were valid, a more than 40 percent failure rate. The attempted recall of Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski is an even stronger example. The petitioners needed 2,329 signatures. They originally handed in more than 5,000, and they missed by 24 signatures. If these two notable rejection rates are a guide, the anti-Arpaio forces may need more than 500,000 to get to Election Day.

Another potential hurdle is that sheriffs are rarely the subject of recall vote. Since 2011, there have been well over 325 recalls that have taken place in the United States. Research suggests that only two have been against sheriffs, one in Colorado and the other in North Dakota (and both sheriffs survived the vote). There have been a number of attempts against sheriffs or other police chiefs, including one prominent attempt against the San Francisco Sheriff after he was nearly kicked out of office, but they have not gotten the signatures to get on the ballot. It could be Arpaio, who is likely the most well-known local law enforcement officer in the country, is different. The Arpaio recall would not be based on malfeasances but on more straightforward political or policy reasons. There are not too many voters who don’t have an opinion on Sheriff Arpaio, and, as he may be seen as more of a political figure than many of the other sheriffs, he is not likely to gain the deference from possible signers.

We are already seeing the problems with the Sheriff Arpaio recall play out. The recall group has already said that it cannot afford any more paid signature gatherers, and will rely on volunteers. Not having enough cash is always the big sign of a sputtering recall effort, so the recall may already be succumbing to the difficulties of gathering so many signatures.

The potential recall of Sheriff Arpaio is a sure-fire political maelstrom for the state. However, the basic hurdles endemic to the recall mean that the anti-Arpaio forces have their work cut out for them.

This guest post was written by Joshua Spivak, a Senior Fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College. He blogs at http://recallelections.blogspot.com/

Tent City jail (Deirdre Hamill/The Arizona Republic)

I had written on another topic today, but it suddenly came to my attention that a longtime neighbor has a birthday today. So I’ve set aside my first idea to commemorate the occasion.

I would hesitate to call it celebratory, but many others would disagree with me. In fact, an actual celebration is planned by the birthday boy’s father, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He is pleased to raise a toast to the 18th birthday of his own Tent City jail.

18. It’s hard to believe. Barely yesterday, it seems, the little-jail-that-could was toddling about, all heat-stroke-and-ice-chips-and-pink-underwear. Now, it’s nearly a strapping adult. Law-and-order folks may even tear up.

Today’s Arizona Republic has a good article on the anniversary. Written by JJ Hensley, it examines what Tent City stands for and how it has weathered controversy.

I say weathered on purpose, of course. So as we pass through increasingly steamy summers, one wonders when enough is enough. We recall a photo of the sheriff squinting at a handheld thermometer, trying to gauge the temperature inside the tents. But we hardly know why he bothers, because really, how hot is too hot for him? He’s said recently that 145 degrees is just fine.

As I started reading today’s story, I was ready for a cringeworthy article that praises with faint damn—one that throws a few tut-tuts the sheriff’s way, but otherwise revels in the human circus created by a county official.

But the article avoids that tone. Instead, it’s a balanced piece that provides quotes from detractors, like lawyer Mike Manning, and from quasi-supporters, like an inmate who chooses Tent City over the traditional brick-and-mortar cell because it allows him to work outside the compound during the day.

The sheriff checks the temperature.

Kind of like the car dealer who combines something you need—like air-conditioning—with something you don’t—like undercoating. I guess I’ll take the undercoating.

Tent City, like all cultural icons, has grown up to stand for more than it is, which is canvas and dirt. As the article says:

In many ways, the compound is the ultimate reflection of Arpaio, the controversial five-term county sheriff who is often accused of valuing publicity more than prudent law-enforcement policy. Tent City was a fresh idea when first proposed, bringing with it a combination of austerity and retribution that appealed to Arpaio’s supporters. It has since survived riots, inmate deaths, lawsuits and legal challenges as it has come to epitomize Arpaio.

The sheriff promises a celebration of sorts today. Inmates will likely participate, especially if the event is combined with a Popsicle and some relief from the heat, however brief.

More photos of Tent City are here.

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I would like to tell you that when I read a news story about rancid meat and jails, I did not immediately think of Arizona.

Of course, I have a commitment to honesty to readers, so I cannot do that.

But as I scanned this story out of New York City, I did find reason—small—to cheer. But first, the story.

I have never visited the jail at Rikers Island, but I have watched a lot of Law & Orders, so I can’t say I was surprised when I saw that facility connected to 65,000 pounds of spoiled meat.

As the story says, jail officials realized that the refrigeration had been off for days. So the contents were “off” too. But at least one of the leaders thought the problem could be solved with some spices.

(Hint to the wise: Do NOT search Google for “Rikers Island meat.”)

How many of us immediately think of the Seinfeld episode where a character remembers with horror his hubris as a young Army cook? Thinking he could salvage meat that was turning, he spiced and spiced—and made his entire unit sick.

Apparently, he has a future in corrections kitchens.

And of course, Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s green bologna came to mind too. Because serving past-its-prime meat to jail inmates is not just something that happens in the Bronx. They have a lot to learn from the Grand Canyon State and Maricopa County.

Enough of that. I had promised you news that cheered me. Well, here it is:

In 115 comments that followed the story, not one—NOT ONE!—mentions Arizona and Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s notorious bologna.

In what passes for progress in Arizona’s national reputation, that fact cheers me.

And on an even more more uplifting note, I steer you toward another story, this one about the bread-baking inmates at Rikers.

As the article opens:

“Each morning, and again in the afternoon, the blades of three bread-slicing machines are counted carefully. Only then does the bakery let workers go home — to their jail cells on Rikers Island.

“Twenty inmates at one of the largest jail complexes in the United States are part of a team that bakes 36,000 loaves of bread a week to feed the city’s entire prison population — about 13,000 people. Employees in orange-and-white-striped jumpsuits and surgical caps earn $31 a week churning out whole-wheat bread. There’s not an apron in sight.”

Freshly made bread leaves the oven along a conveyer belt at the Rikers Island bakery. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

Skip the protein, stick to the carbs.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Judge Sam Myers of the Superior Court for Maricopa County has issued an order in regard to the report by the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office on possible misconduct by officials in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. (The report was undertaken by Pinal Sheriff Paul Babeu, who today won accolades as the National Sheriff of the Year.)

News organizations had sought the public release of the complete report. Today, Judge Myers ruled that portions of the report pertaining to individuals no longer employed at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office may be released. The remainder—in regard to Captain Joel Fox—will remain under wraps until his disciplinary process has been completed.

Here is the minute entry in Phoenix Newspapers Inc. v. Joseph M. Arpaio, LC2011-000277-001 DT

MINUTE ENTRY

Following oral argument, the Court took under advisement Petitioners’ Complaint for Statutory Special Action and Respondent’s Motion to Dismiss.  The Court has subsequently received Post-Hearing briefs from both parties.

Sheriff Paul Babeu accepts the award for 2011 National Sheriff of the Year.

In their Complaint, Petitioners argue that the investigative report conducted by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu (“Babeu report”) must be open in full to public inspection pursuant to Arizona’s Public Records Law, A.R.S. §39-121.  Respondent argues that A.R.S. §38-1101(K) prohibits full disclosure because the investigation of Mr. Fox is ongoing and the disciplinary appeal process has not concluded.

In order to analyze the proper treatment underArizona law, it is crucial to understand the nature of the Babeu report.  Sheriff Babeu was tasked with conducting an “administrative investigation concerning alleged policy violations” of three MCSO employees (Report of Administrative Investigation, page 1).  The Babeu report is not a criminal investigation; its purpose is to determine if three MCSO employees had violated MCSO policies.

Because the Babeu report is an administrative investigation of employees, Arizonalaw gives protections that would otherwise be unavailable to other “public records”.  A.R.S. §38-1101(K) states:

An employer shall not include in that portion of the personnel file of a law enforcement officer or probation officer that is available for public inspection and copying any information about an investigation until the investigation is complete or the employer has discontinued the investigation. If the law enforcement officer or probation officer has timely appealed a disciplinary action, the investigation is not complete until the conclusion of the appeal process.

Having considered the arguments of the parties, the Court interprets A.R.S. §38-1101(K) as a mandate from the legislature to protect employee investigations from public disclosure until either the investigation is closed or the appeal rights of the employee have terminated.

Following the issuance of the Babeu report, two of the three investigatory subjects have resigned from MCSO.  According to counsel for Respondent, one employee, Mr. Fox, is still involved in the disciplinary process.  For this reason, the Court finds that A.R.S. §38-1101(K) precludes the public disclosure of the Babeu report as it pertains to Mr. Fox.  However, A.R.S. §38-1101(K) is inapplicable to the two former employees, and A.R.S. §39-121 mandates the release of the report as to those two individuals.

On June 1, 2011, the Court ordered Respondent to provide in-camera a complete copy of the unredacted Babeu report and copies of the redacted public disclosures in order to determine if the redactions were properly made.  The Court was promptly provided with both versions of the report.  Having reviewed thousands of pages of the redacted report that were provided to Petitioners, the Court cannot find that the redactions are inappropriate.  Respondents were tasked with the difficult job of protecting the Fox investigation while releasing the remainder of the report.  The Court finds that Respondents have acted in compliance with A.R.S. §38-1101(K).

In regard to Respondent’s Motion to Dismiss, the Court finds no basis upon which to dismiss Petitioners’ action.  The Babeu report is a public record that, upon completion of Mr. Fox’s disciplinary process, will be disclosed in full to the public.  The Court finds that Petitioner’s action is legitimate and, though temporarily denied in part, will ultimately be granted in full.

IT IS ORDERED accepting jurisdiction of Petitioners’ Complaint for Statutory Special Action.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED granting relief in part, as outlined above, to Petitioners’ Complaint for Statutory Special Action.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that, within thirty (30) days of the expiration of Mr. Fox’s disciplinary appeal rights, that Respondent shall provide the complete unredacted report to Petitioners.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED denying Respondent’s Motion to Dismiss.

Newly appointed District Attorney George Gascon (left) smiles as he listens to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom speak in the City Hall on Sunday. (Brant Ward/The Chronicle)

Outgoing San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom made a bold announcement this week when he tapped the City’s police chief, George Gascón, as the new District Attorney.

Here in Arizona, we recall Gascón as the former top cop in Mesa. There, he made headlines for butting heads with Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

As Newsom and his staff ruminated on a new police chief (just before the mayor was about to leave to begin his new job as California Lieutenant Governor), someone recalled that Gascón is also a lawyer (he graduated from Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, Calif., and was admitted in 1996).

Read more about the appointment here.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi

That new hire helps seal San Francisco’s ranking as top city for unique criminal law leaders. Jeff Adachi, the city’s Public Defender, also has a reputation beyond the state’s borders. We wrote about Adachi here, when he visited Arizona in regard to a movie–and a protest in regard to the signing of SB1070, our immigration law.

As always, the city is worth watching.