State Bar of Arizona SBA_Logo_ColorLast Thursday, John Phelps wrote candidly about violence against lawyers in an Arizona Republic op-ed.

John is the CEO/Executive Director of the State Bar of Arizona. Here is how he opened his editorial:

“The murders of Phoenix attorney Mark Hummels and his client Steven D. Singer are part of an unsettling trend in the legal world. Threats and violence are on the rise.”

John Phelps headshot

John Phelps

“In the same week that Hummels was murdered, a prosecutor in Texas, Mark Hasse, was also gunned down. Last year, an attorney in Yuma, Jerrold Shelley, was shot and killed by a man upset over a divorce.”

You can read his complete editorial here.

John goes on to discuss Steve Kelson, a Utah lawyer who has researched instances of violence against lawyers all across the country. (He is in the beginning steps of his process to do the same in Arizona in 2013.) The statistics Keslon reports in John’s op-ed are startling and should give us pause.

In his conclusion, John reminds us of attorneys’ highest duties: “Mark Hummels died after leaving a mediation. His death was the result of trying to find resolution. He died fulfilling Cicero’s belief that ‘we are all servants of the laws in order that we may be free.’”

“Our thoughts and prayers go to Mark and Steve Singer’s family, friends and co-workers.”

John Phelps op-ed re Mark Hummels

News screen grab (referring to shooter Arthur Harmon)

UPDATE: This morning, a shooting in Delaware highlighted the flash point that the legal system can be. News reports indicate that multiple people were killed when a gunman opened fire at a security checkpoint in a Wilmington courthouse. Identities of those killed and hurt have not yet been announced. But the final paragraph of the news article is revealing: “Wilmington Police Chief Christine Dunning, attending a roundtable on gun violence with Vice President Joe Biden and other law enforcement officials in Philadelphia, declined comment on the shooting and deferred to officials on the scene in Wilmington.”

A Bushmaster .233 Remington semiautomatic rifle, one of the weapons used in recent school murders

A Bushmaster .233 Remington semiautomatic rifle, one of the weapons used in recent school murders

What, if anything, should we do with our gun laws?

In the wake of a massacre in Sandy Hook, Conn., that’s just one of the difficult questions facing a nation.

It may be too early to tell, but this tragedy seems to have spurred a deeper impetus for change than previous multiple shootings have done. But the question is: Should changes to ensure safety include changes to laws regarding guns? And if so, what should those changes be?

In the past few days, I’ve spotted a few articles that pitch two straw men against each other. The battle, according to that narrative, is between doing nothing (it’s all fine) to banning all guns.

However, no actual person I’ve ever spoken with sees those as the alternatives. As another has said, we support all the amendments, including the Second. The real question is how to effectuate those enumerated rights in a way that does not infringe upon others.

Just as distracting is the position that the national conversation should just be about mental health. It’s certainly true that our country must establish better methods to address those who are a danger to themselves and others. But surely we can manage to wrestle with more than one concept at a time. Can it really be true that as a nation we must rank the challenges we face (mental health, easy access to large-magazine weapons, school security) and propose solutions to only one?

A hint that the conversation may go farther this time arises in a New York Times story yesterday. It explores the decision of the corporation Cerberus to divest itself of the nation’s largest gun company. That decision goes far beyond previous efforts to address a too-recurring tragedy.

The story is titled “In Unusual Move, Cerberus to Sell Gun Company,” and it opens:

“Sitting in their offices high above Park Avenue late on Monday, the private equity executives who own the country’s largest gun company received a phone call from one of their most influential investors.”

“An official at the California teachers’ pension fund, which has $750 million invested with the private equity firm, Cerberus Capital Management, was on the line, raising questions about the firm’s ownership of the Freedom Group, the gun maker that made the rifle used in the Connecticut school shootings. Hours later, at 1 a.m. on Tuesday, Cerberus said that it was putting the Freedom Group up for sale.”

“‘It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level,’ Cerberus said in a statement.”

So I ask for your thoughts: Is this truly a watershed event? And what should or can change in our laws to address it?

Here are a few other resources that cover the topic:

The New York Times has another story, this one on what some state leaders are proposing:

“The first concrete responses to the massacre in Newtown, Conn., began emerging on Tuesday, as state leaders proposed measures to curb gun violence, corporations distanced themselves from an event that has traumatized the nation and the White House pointed to gun control measures that President Obama would champion in the months ahead.”

“The reactions were considerably more broad-based than what had followed previous mass shootings, coming from Republicans as well as Democrats, from gun control advocates and those who have favored gun rights in the past, and even from the corporate and retail worlds. Proponents of stricter controls on firearms said they were cautiously optimistic that, perhaps this time, something concrete and lasting would be enacted.”

And here is an examination of whether proposed laws conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller:

“Despite the sweeping language of a 2008 Supreme Court decision that struck down parts of the District of Columbia’s strict gun-control law, the decision appears perfectly consistent with many of the policy options being discussed after the shootings in Newtown, Conn.”

“Legal experts say the decision in the case, District of Columbia v. Heller, has been of mainly symbolic importance so far. There have been more than 500 challenges to gun laws and gun prosecutions since Heller was decided, and vanishingly few of them have succeeded.”

Finally, the Arizona Republic has published multiple opinions on the way forward.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

This Sunday, January 8, Arizonans and many others around the country will recall a horrific shooting that killed six people and injured 13.

Though deaths by loaded weapon are relatively commonplace in this country, certain factors ensured that the Tucson shooting would ring in our memories far longer than the sound of the shots did. Among those felled were U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and U.S. District Court Judge John Roll. Giffords survived; Roll died.

I wrote about the event a few times in 2011, the first time just two days after the shooting:

“The lives of judges and Congress-folk are no more important than the lives of anyone else—not a jot. But a person of my age was raised on a nutritious diet of study—of history, of federalism, of the U.S. Constitution. We learned—and many of us still feel—that our government is OUR government.

“So when a criminal attacks a judge and a member of Congress, he takes arms against all of us. When he ratchets up political dissent to transform it into a chambered round, and then sends his rebellion hurtling out the end of a gun barrel, he aims it at every American citizen.”

(The complete post is here.)

Chief Judge John M. Roll

Since then, I’ve written about Giffords, the shooting, and the coverage of guns in the state more times than I would have guessed I ever would have.

This week, a PBS program shares some stories from survivors and aims to heal some of the wounds that have been made. Read more about it here.

Meanwhile, efforts at civil discourse continue. Another recent one featured former U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Have a good and thoughtful weekend.

This morning, Chief U.S. District Judge John Roll will be laid to rest in Tucson. As we and others reported before, he was gunned down on January 8 in an attack that was directed at U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Many will undoubtedly attend the funeral mass at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church. But far more will be unable to make the trip. For those people, honoring the judge may be as close as your federal courthouse—or even the Web.

As Above the Law has reported, the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Alex Kozinski, has ordered flags at all federal courthouses in the Circuit to be flown at half-mast. But he’s gone further than that. He wants to share what that looks like.

The Ninth Circuit website includes a growing photo gallery of flags at those courthouses. And Judge Kozinski asked Above the Law readers whether they could assist the Circuit: If you see that your local federal courthouse is not represented, please take a photo (with flag) and send it to the Circuit.

When I read the news item at ATL, I was a bit skeptical. For I could pretty easily picture in my mind’s eye what a courthouse looked like, and what a flag looked like. Aggregating hundreds of them would provide a lot of volume, I thought, but not much insight.

Well, I was wrong. As a visual tribute to a fallen judge—one of the Circuit’s own—it is very powerful. I found myself peering intently at every courthouse, moved more and more as I scrolled down the page.

As you might guess, Arizona’s own federal courthouses reside near the top of the page. Take a few quiet moments today to look at the page and to think on John Roll’s service. In an upcoming issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine, we will run a memoriam to the judge, who was a legal leader and a friend to the magazine.

Three related items:

  • The State Bar of Arizona, in partnership with the University of Arizona, has established the John M. Roll Memorial Fund. Money used will provide scholarships to students attending Judge Roll’s alma mater, the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona. More information is here, and you can contribute here.
  • Because every interaction is an opportunity for learning, this news story got me wondering about the origins of flying flags at half-mast. Leave it to Wikipedia to make all clear. Among the fascinating facts:

“The tradition of flying the flag at half-mast began centuries ago, to allow ‘the invisible flag of death’ to fly at the top of the mast—which signified death’s presence, power, and prominence. In some countries, for example the UK, and especially in military contexts, a ‘half-mast’ flag is still flown exactly one flag’s width down from its normal position, and no lower, to allow for this flag of death. This was the original flag etiquette.”

  • Next week, I will report on another look at courthouses—this one will be in book form, used to celebrate a law firm’s anniversary and to exhibit pride in its trial accomplishments.

I have heard more than one person say that they are pretty much “done” reading any further analyses of Saturday’s shooting in Tucson. And I sure sympathize with that view.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

Since the attack on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the news chatter has been unrelenting, and the facts that we learned were largely horrifying. It will take quite some time to determine what brought a 22-year-old man to commit murder on a sunny Saturday morning. Until then, some may say, we should leave the families to grieve. They may be right.

And yet, I had to wonder at my own reaction, which I believe was shared by many. Why did this crime hit so close to home?

That may appear to be an offensive question. After all, six people were killed, and others are hovering somewhere between life and death. A man died sprawled across his wife, successfully saving her life as he gave his own. And a 9-year-old girl, eager to meet a Congresswoman, was savagely shot in the chest.

Isn’t that enough reason for this tragedy to hit home?

Well, yes, except for one thing. We are a violent country.

I know that the crime rate has been dropping over the past decade, but we still have grown accustomed to hear of weapons-related crimes that take lives and limbs. The news in the United States comes with such regularity, we simply file it in the “shooting-death” portion of our brains, and continue on. In our approach to crime and our uninterest in its consequences, we Americans paraphrase Robert Frost: “Good weapons make good neighbors.”

But this post is not about the weapons. It’s about our reactions. It’s not about ballistics, but about the increasing willingness to go ballistic in service to one’s own ends.

Judge John Roll

Shouldn’t we be horrified at any incident in which someone causes the death of another? Yes. But we now require “murder-plus” for it to register.

For me, this incident’s murder-plus may come from my (almost) middle age, and the experiences that half a century brings with it.

For instance, my wife and I have a 9-year-old daughter. The thought of kissing her goodbye as she heads out the door—which we do every day—and then to never see her alive again. It makes you double over in sorrow.

But the attacks on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Judge John Roll—they strike me for different reasons entirely.

One reason may be that they are (or were, in Judge Roll’s case) terrific people. Both have written for Arizona Attorney Magazine (Representative Giffords here, and Judge Roll here), and they were wonderful people to work with.

I knew John Roll personally, and he left you, every time, better off than before you saw him. According to news reports, he died a second after a friendly salutation had escaped his lips. That was Judge Roll.

But the honorifics before their names reveal another reason that their travails leave me stunned.

Understand, the lives of judges and Congress-folk are no more important than the lives of anyone else—not a jot. But a person of my age was raised on a nutritious diet of study—of history, of federalism, of the U.S. Constitution. We learned—and many of us still feel—that our government is OUR government.

So when a criminal attacks a judge and a member of Congress, he takes arms against all of us. When he ratchets up political dissent to transform it into a chambered round, and then sends his rebellion hurtling out the end of a gun barrel, he aims it at every American citizen.

The rule of law in the United States may be one of our most significant attributes. But its security is assailed when disagreement turns violent.

This Wednesday, I will be privileged to serve as a judge on the We the People competition sponsored by the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education. (The program is on Facebook—Like it here.) There, middle-school and high-school students will demonstrate their understanding of the U.S. Constitution. I have judged the competition before, and it’s always terrific.

But this year, as I sit and listen to some of the smartest kids our state has to offer, my thoughts—and that of my fellow judges—will be at least partly with Gabrielle Giffords and John Roll, who served us all, and gave so much for a Constitution and for the people whom it benefits.

Here’s hoping we continue to deserve it.

Suspected shooter Jared Loughner (AP photo)

The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona just announced that it has filed a federal complaint against Jared Loughner, the suspect in yesterday’s Tucson shooting. Five counts are alleged. Read the complete release below.

Office of the United States Attorney, Dennis K. Burke

District of Arizona

MEDIA ADVISORY Public Affairs

Sunday, January 09, 2011 MANNY TARANGO

Telephone: (602) 514-7456

Cell: (602) 799-8322

Federal Complaint Filed Against Jared Lee Loughner

PHOENIX – The United States Attorney for the District of Arizona, Dennis K. Burke, announced today that his office filed a federal complaint against Jared Lee Loughner. The complaint was signed by Magistrate Judge Michelle Burns in Phoenix.

Loughner is suspected of shooting U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Chief Judge John Roll, Giffords’ staff member Gabriel Zimmerman and approximately 16 others Saturday in Tucson.

The federal complaint alleges five counts against Loughner:

COUNT 1

On or about January 8, 2011, at or near Tucson, in the District of Arizona, the defendant, JARED LEE LOUGHNER, did attempt to kill Gabrielle Giffords, a Member of Congress; in violation of Title 18, United States Code Section 351(c).

COUNT 2

On or about January 8, 2011, at or near Tucson, in the District of Arizona, the defendant, JARED LEE LOUGHNER, did unlawfully kill Gabriel Zimmerman, an employee of the United States who was engaged in performance of official duties and who was assisting Member of Congress Gabrielle Giffords while she was engaged in performance of official duties; in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1114 and 1111.

COUNT 3

On or about January 8, 2011, at or near Tucson, in the District of Arizona, the defendant, JARED LEE LOUGHNER, did unlawfully kill John M. Roll, a United States District Court Judge for the District of Arizona, an employee of the United States who was engaged in performance of official duties; in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1114 and 1111.

COUNT 4

On or about January 8, 2011, at or near Tucson, in the District of Arizona, the defendant, JARED LEE LOUGHNER, did, with intent to kill, attempt to kill Pamela Simon, an employee of the United States who was engaged in performance of official duties and who was assisting Member of Congress Gabrielle Giffords while she was engaged in performance of official duties; in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1114 and 1113.

COUNT 5

On or about January 8, 2011, at or near Tucson, in the District of Arizona, the defendant, JARED LEE LOUGHNER, did, with intent to kill, attempt to kill Ron Barber, an employee of the United States who was engaged in performance of official duties and who was assisting Member of Congress Gabrielle Giffords while she was engaged in performance of official duties; in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1114 and 1113.

Defendant Loughner will make an initial appearance on the complaint at 3 p.m. Monday January 10, 2011 in front of Magistrate Judge Lawrence Anderson at the Sandra Day O’Connor Courthouse in Phoenix in courtroom 302. He is entitled to a preliminary hearing and detention hearing. The court will set a date for both hearings. Loughner remains in federal custody.

The Rules of Criminal Procedure require that a grand jury review the evidence and issue an indictment within 30 days of the defendant’s initial appearance.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona is in the process of drafting an indictment against Loughner for presentation to the grand jury.

RELEASE NUMBER: 2011-003( Loughner)

# # #

For more information on the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona, visit http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/az/