Monday, December 29, 2008

My Trib Gig Ends Thus

Here’s my last column for the print version of The East Valley Tribune. On Jan. 1, the paper ceases distribution in Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe. Home delivery will be restricted to four days a week and only in certain neighborhoods (upscale ones, natch!) in Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, Queen Creek, and Apache Junction. You’ll be able to pick up paper copies at Circle Ks and convenience stores. Sic transit gloria mundi, and it’s actually a blessing that Jonathan Marshall isn’t around to see the final demise of the Scottsdale Progress.

Lots of local ‘wingers complain that the major daily is “too liberal” and thus losing readers. But the paper closer to their editorial viewpoint folded first. Apparently there are enough ‘wingers to support talk radio or a newspaper, but not both, and reading is lots harder than listening. Ditto that!

I did get one fun email from a friend who grew up in Mesa, who used to be a delivery boy for the old locally-owned Tribune, and who in high school became a stringer reporting on high school sports. He got paid $2 per column inch, which 50 years later was still the going rate. I like to steal Calvin Trillin’s line and say I got paid in the low two figures.

Newspaper version of the column are available here
(basic version) or here (how it looked on paper, for the last time). The editor took out some parentheticals and throw-away lines, and this time I’ve left them out except the Arpaio one in the third paragraph, that one stays.

East Valley Tribune, Dec. 28, 2008

Maricopa County Attorney Andy Thomas must love “Monopoly” because he just invented the real-life “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

In intra-party squabbling that would be deemed too absurd for a soap opera, Thomas charged county Supervisor Don Stapley with dozens of felonies for filing incorrect financial disclosure forms. Thomas did wait until after the election, but Stapley didn’t seem appreciative. The county attorney is legal advisor to the county and its elected officials, but Stapley seemed dubious about getting legal advice from somebody seeking to convict him. The other supervisors agreed to hire outside counsel for so long as Thomas is prosecuting his ostensible client.

And whom did the supervisors select as their “outside legal consultant” (not lawyer)? Thomas’s predecessor, Rick Romley, who before he left office, was engaged in a long-running battle with Sheriff Joe Arpaio that could only be described as nasty, for there are no other types of battles possible with Arpaio, for whom all things are either personal or irrelevant.

Who needs Democrats (not that we have any in Maricopa County elected office, save for Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox) to cause trouble when Republicans are so good at fighting among themselves? The infighting provides a welcome distraction from the fiscal difficulties that the county, with tax revenues dependent on development and retail sales, finds itself in. Like the ancient Romans, with less bread, we need more entertaining circuses.

For people who found the Romley-Arpaio feud beneath the dignity of both men and the exalted standards of public service in county government, who saw Thomas’s election in 2004 as a chance to resolve the friction between the two leaders of county law enforcement, well, you got your wish. The county attorney and sheriff now get along just fine. They just can’t get along with anybody else.

But the most interesting innovation developed by County Attorney Thomas is his expansion of the law of conflict of interest, which you (and criminal lawyers) could use to advantage. Remember that Maricopa County paid all that money to Thomas’s former employer, Dennis Wilenchik, to arrest the publishers of the Phoenix New Times newspaper because Thomas declared a conflict because of the paper’s strong, even pungent, editorial stands against him. Then when arresting newspaper publishers turned politically dicey, Thomas rose above supposed principle requiring his recusal and personally called off the investigation.

Now in the Stapley case, Thomas’s office has filed several motions seeking to have the judge assigned to the trial removed for bias. Thomas claims that the judge has ruled against him in the past, but lots of superior court judges have declined to agree with everything Thomas’s office proposes, and even Thomas’s henchmen (and women) must acknowledge that they don’t have any statistically valid evidence given the small number of rulings involved. Instead, their big claim is that the judge can’t be fair because he made a $390 contribution to Tim Nelson, Thomas’s opponent in November. (Repetitive disclosure: As did my wife and I, and Tim’s wife is one of my law partners.)

Thus, according to Andy Thomas, for a mere $390, you’re irrevocably prejudiced against him. So wouldn’t that mean that a $390 contribution makes Andy Thomas irrevocably prejudiced against you?

If I were a criminal defendant like, say, Don Stapley, I’d start writing angry newspaper columns against Thomas and send a $390 check to Tim Nelson to retire any remaining campaign debt immediately. Then you could demand (using Thomas’s own arguments) that Thomas recuse himself and send the case to a more rational, less grandstanding, prosecutor.

* * * *

Finally, please excuse a personal note. Along with the other changes at The Tribune, our Freedom Communications overlords eliminated the budget for outside writers, including their “house liberal.” So this column is my last, as it’s a bad idea to work for libertarians for free, it gives them the wrong idea. I greatly enjoyed, and appreciated, jousting with the editors, and with you readers, too, these past nine years. For future installments, however, visit my blog,

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