News & Opinion » Feature

See Ya in Court

A Recap Of Amphi's Recent Legal Adventures.

by

comment
AMPHITHEATER'S COSTLY legal battle to build a high school next to pygmy owl habitat ended in federal appeals court in 1999. But the district's political turmoil quickly found another court venue, the Superior Court of Pima County. So thick was Amphi's court action in the last year that Amphi players occupied two court divisions on the same day in March. Here's a recap of Amphi's trials and tribulations.

AUGUST 18: Fed up with Amphi's intransigent ruling majority, citizens organized as Parents As Children's Advocates begin a recall drive aimed at current Board President Gary Woodard and longtime Board members Virginia Houston and Richard Scott. The three downplay the effort. Houston and Scott, whose terms reach back to 1976, also would be facing election in November. Woodard's term closes at the end of 2002.

DECEMBER 7: Paula Wilk, a deputy for Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, a Democrat, files papers against Ken Smith demanding he explain in court why he shouldn't lose the seat he was overwhelmingly elected to 13 months earlier. Amphi administrators, including the board's counsel and Wilk, say Smith is violating state law that forbids school board members from occupying office while spouses work for the school district. Smith's wife, Barbara, is a participant in Amphi's early retirement program. Wilk's case is exposed as porous and politically motivated in court the following week. Wilk contends she had no choice but to file the complaint.

DECEMBER 19: Parents As Children's Advocates file recall petitions with newly appointed county Superintendent of Schools Linda Arzoumanian. For each recall target, 5,042 signatures are needed. The group files 5,778 signatures against Woodard; 5,729 against Scott; and 5,728 against Houston. Petitions are turned over on December 22 to Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez, a Democrat, for verification. The three targets downplay the recall.

FEBRUARY 1: Bill Risner, one of two lawyers representing Ken Smith, asks Judge Kenneth Lee of Pima County Superior Court to dismiss Wilk's complaint. In papers and in a court hearing the next week, Risner shows that Amphi never considered Barbara Smith a continuing employee. Retired after 17 years as a reading specialist and sixth grade teacher, Barbara Smith entered the early retirement program in 1996 and, as do fellow early retirees, provides 20 days service a year. Risner shows that Amphi pays her only for prior service. Her great infraction now is that she helps tutor at-risk students and does volunteer fundraising for school and student programs. Wilk's key witness against Ken Smith is Smith's very own board lawyer, Todd Jaeger. Cocky and verbose, Jaeger stumbles when he gives conflicting testimony about the author of letters Amphi has sent to Social Security on behalf of early retirees that say their pay is based soley on past service.

FEBRUARY 19: Rodriguez, on a Saturday, notifies recall organizers and targets that petitions carry sufficient valid signatures. Although they have a thin cushion, the petitions are stunningly accurate, ranging from 89 percent against Scott to 88.3 percent against Woodard. The three downplay the recall effort. Woodard says he is "not shaken." Scott considers it the product only of a noisy minority.

MARCH 2: Arzoumanian, in a rare bright move, rebuffs pressure from Amphi administrators working to shield the targeted majority, and sets the recall for May 16. The majority and their allies whine about costs of an election and say they really want it to coincide with the general election. But Oro Valley Town Council and Tucson bond elections also are scheduled May 16, putting voters in many parts of Amphi at the polls. Recall candidates, not an ironclad slate, are Mary Schuh, a popular taxpayer advocate and critic of local governments; community college instructor Kent Barrabee; and UA spaceflight administrator Mike Prout. Under school board recall law, the May 16 election is no shotgun. Schuh, saying Woodard is on her last nerve, will challenge the Board's president. Prout will take on Houston and Barrabee faces Scott.

MARCH 3: Without a shred of evidence, Woodard, Houston and Scott file a special action in Superior Court seeking to nullify the recall election. The three, representing themselves, vaguely assert that the recall petitions are invalid.

MARCH 27: Armed with a couple of suits from an expensive law firm -- Karp Heurlin & Weiss -- the Amphi majority gets its day in court. But Judge John F. Kelly isn't buying still vague arguments from Bruce Heurlin, whose inexperience on election matters is painfully evident. Kelly quickly rules against sending the petitions back to Rodriguez for another check by the Recorder's Office. Judge Lee, meanwhile, hears the last of evidence from Risner and the understated but brilliant Anthony Ching in Ken Smith's case. So decimated is Wilk's case, that at the close she offers Lee the opportunity to rule against her by saying there is nothing to prohibit him from carving out some exception in the state law that simply bars school board members' spouses from working in the same district. Lee seems incredulous when Wilk seeks to downplay evidence about Amphi's letters to Social Security assuring the agency that early retirees are not district employees. He asks if Amphi lied or sent incorrect information. Smith remains in limbo while Lee ponders a decision.

MARCH 31: Recall ballots are printed for the nearly 63,000 voters in Amphi.

APRIL 13: Early and absentee voting begins in the Amphi recall.

APRIL 17: The ruling majority gets Heurlin to trot back to Judge Kelly to make a desperate request for almost unheard of action: to stop the election. Heurlin seems unaware that 44 ballots had already been cast and absentee material was out to 210 voters. Wilk, the deputy county attorney nipping at Ken Smith in the other Amphi case, makes the argument for the recall election to proceed, saying far too much time has passed. Judge Kelly, already well down that path, needs little prodding and tells Heurlin the recall election bell had rung.

APRIL 26: Once more for Woodard, Houston and Scott, Heurlin tries and fails to get Judge Kelly to save them from the public. Kelly, however, denies Heurlin's motion for reconsideration.

APRIL 28: Straining all credulity, Woodard, Houston and Scott have Heurlin beg for protection again, this time from the Arizona Supreme Court. They seek to stop the now-ongoing election. They mischaracterize Judge Kelly's actions and their petition is filled with errors and exaggerations.

Tags

Add a comment