GAG ORDERWhere is Barbara LaWall, the Democrat re-elected Nov. 2 to a third term as Pima County Attorney? We've called and called. The daily press has called and called. And Barbara doesn't call back. Is she at the salon, undergoing another makeover or agonizing over Belfagore-looking results? With crises engulfing the prosecution wing of her office, LaWall is gone. AWOL.
The latest episode in LaWall's office is the conflict of interest declared in the murder cases of Dr. Bradley Schwartz and Ronald Bigger. The former is accused of hiring the latter to kill Schwartz's former partner, Dr. David Stidham, a popular pediatric ophthalmologist. Stidham was beaten and stabbed to death on Oct. 5.
To recap, LaWall said her office could not prosecute Schwartz and Bigger (the case was spun off to the Pinal County Attorney's Office) because one of her former prosecutors, Lourdes Lopez, had a relationship with Schwartz. Lopez had her own trouble two years ago, getting busted on two drug counts for which she received a federal slap on the wrist. She is practicing law and lunches, chats and pals around with some of her former LaWall-office colleagues.
So LaWall, cloaked in mystery, suspended four prosecutors last week. Escorted out were Brad Roach, Janet Altschuler, Nicki DiCampli and Paul Skitzki.
It is a small town--and there are only 66 prosecutors in a $25 million-a-year office with 384 employees--and word spread so fast and so widely that even some out-of-touch talking heads were broadcasting the suspensions, confused with firings, on television.
And LaWall, though perpetually wimpering about not having enough prosecutors, went into hiding.
Worried for her, we called. And we were handed, as were the daily media, to Dan Benavidez, the political wannabe who is LaWall's taxpayer-financed publicist. Benavidez played a stupid little game in which he said he couldn't explain anything. Benavidez said state law, county civil-service rules, and county personnel policies prevented him from spilling.
But Benavidez couldn't cite, when The Skinny called, any law, civil-service rule or personnel policy that specifically prevented him from discussing the personnel actions or simply owning up to the public. In fact, while no one expected him to hand over the personnel files for the friendly four, there is nothing in the law or county rules and policies barring an honest explanation to the public.
As for LaWall, Benavidez said not to worry. She's fine. She was in Phoenix, first for a prosecutors' conference and then to participate on a governor's commission to which she was appointed. Both appearances were nothing, given what's going on in her out-of-control office, but self-aggrandizing sessions.
LaWall and her handlers finally kicked out a keep-secrets-secret press release late last week. They did so only because the normally adulatory Arizona Daily Star was preparing more coverage and an editorial criticizing LaWall's poor handling of her personnel problems.
Funny thing about LaWall: She has no trouble throwing up all kinds of personnel details when she doesn't like the employee, or when she simply feels like it. Case in point: LaWall's vengeance against Michael Gatto, who as a young deputy county attorney cracked that Superior Court Judge Deborah Bernini wanted to kiss him.
Roach's recent claim to fame was the successful prosecution of rapist the newly late James Allen Selby, who clumsily attempted to represent himself. Roach is in the special-victims unit and is paid $60,680 a year, plus $1,998 in special-assignment pay. He's been in LaWall's shop for seven years. DiCampli, who joined the office in December 1996, also is in the special-victims unit and is paid $51,455, plus $2,000 in special assignment pay. She ought to be pissed off that the utterly superfluous Benavidez, who was handed his job in 1999, is paid $50,503. Skitzki, a prosecutor here for more than five years, is paid $61,705 and Altschuler, part of LaWall's team since July 1999, is paid $63,857.
LaWall, who grew up in the office working under longtime Democratic County Attorney Stephen D. Neely, is petty, vindictive and mean. But we never knew her to be so cowardly that she would not face the public. This problem, combined with the severe prosecutorial misconduct committed by two top prosecutors under her watch, shows complete lack of effective management. Neely was brash, arrogant and sometimes bullying. But he didn't duck like LaWall.
Neely wasted money training his staff to reach their ultimate human potential though '70s-style EST techniques, which mostly resulted in his staff speaking in questions. You can still hear LaWall's EST accent. When she's not in hiding.
CLEAR CHANNELINGTucson lawyer and Pima County Republican Party Chairman John Munger has surprisingly quit as Pima County's prime lobbyist at the state capitol. After gorging for 11 years, Munger pushed away from the table, laden by taxpayers with $250,000, just as the Democratic-controlled Board of Supervisors signed him up for another two years.
Obviously, Munger's other big client, Clear Channel, is more important. Munger runs interference for Clean Channel and its awful billboards at the Legislature and in Superior Court against the county and the city of Tucson.
The lobbying duties and pay will go to, as we have recommended for years, Michael Racy. As a Munger employee, Racy worked the Legislature and brought home the bacon while Munger got all the credit.
It bears repeating that only Supervisor Ray Carroll, a Republican, questioned the propriety of Munger getting fat county checks while representing such an ardent adversary. It's also worth noting that Munger supported the politically incompetent Brenda Even when she tried to unseat Carroll in 1998.
Sugar Ray may get another chance to slap Munger around. Carroll and Munger are two of several pols waiting for the chance to eventually succeed U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe if the Republican ever decides to retire from the District 8 congressional seat.
FOR THE DEFENSEFive men are finalists to fill Susan Kettlewell's flats (she was tall enough not to need heels) as Pima County's public defender. Kettlewell retired recently as the longest-serving PD in modern Pima history. She was cool, deflecting loads of bullshit from the County Attorney's Office, not only in court, but when the county attorney would try to dictate her budget.
And the finalists are: Joe Machado, the former Santa Cruz County Attorney; Richard Lougee, a Tucson defense lawyer; Robert Hooker, a former Superior Court judge; Daniel DeRienzo, the Yavapai County public defender; and Dana Hlavac, the Mohave County public defender.
While the Board of Supervisors 15 years ago asserted control of appointments and chose Kettlewell, this is Pima Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry's call. He is too smart, however, to not gauge the supes' comfort zones.
Machado has impressive political connections, including with Raul Grijalva, the Democratic congressman and former longtime supervisor.
Lougee was key in busting Ken Peasley, the former two-time Arizona prosecutor of the year, for gross misconduct in the El Grande Market murders. Peasley was disbarred.
Hooker was caught up in the periphery of controversy, but was able to walk away from his position on the Superior Court bench in the 1980s unscathed. He is a skilled defense lawyer whose assessment of judges remains refreshing. Said he: "The best judges are those who don't want to be judges."