WHAT WOULD ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACK MCCOY DO?For two days last month, Barbara LaWall delivered the gospel in the case against three former prosecutors she fired or suspended. Her acolytes delivered the sermons on other days. They all preached accountability, prosecuting crimes, protecting the community from thugs and villains, and the importance of hard work, preparedness and honesty.
Finally, LaWall, a Democrat, confirmed the buck stops with her, as the county's top law enforcement official who was handed a third term in an electoral tsunami on Nov. 2. Now comes the revelation of 539 felony drug-case dismissals, and LaWall's 'fessing up about another broken-down process that has resulted in the failure to make arrests in 236 domestic violence cases--news that was first reported on Cinco de Mayo by Lupita Murillo of KVOA.
Hats off also to the Arizona Daily Star for getting stunning quotes from LaWall the next day, including: "It was a systems failure. When problems happen on an airplane, the machine doesn't work right, you can't just start blaming people; you just fix it. You fix it and you make it run right. Blame is pretty useless."
The failure or a lack of a tracking system, including at cop agencies, was cited as the problem. But cops aren't buying LaWall's excuse.
As for the failure to make arrests in 236 domestic-violence cases, paperwork sat in boxes. This, after LaWall--to the acceptance and cheers of cops--announced last year that her office would go to court to seek warrants for the arrests of those cited for domestic violence. Cops would no longer go to the judge to get the warrants for people who, as is frequently the case, split before police arrived after the 911 call was made. But LaWall's troops didn't follow through.
Handwringers watching LaWall's office turmoil, including that arising from the murder of Dr. Brian Stidham, have cautioned that the true test for LaWall is how she is prosecuting criminals. That looks like some damning evidence that surfaced last week. Some people in the law-and-order business have suggested a recall, saying citizens can't afford to wait until 2008 for a change.
In her drive to cleanse her office of any taint left over from the Stidham case, LaWall trotted out the office mission statement, which states, in part, "We are the advocates for the state and for the people of Pima County. To perform this function effectively, we have three primary obligations: to reduce crime and protect the public safety by holding criminals accountable for their conduct (and) to assist victims and witnesses by treating them with compassion and respect and vigorously upholding their rights and minimizing the inconvenience and hardship associated with crime."
The Merit Commission, the county civil-service panel that held hearings for 14 days in April and May on the appeals lodged by three of LaWall's former prosecutors, handed LaWall a split decision this week. The commission, on separate 2-1 votes, threw out the three-week suspensions LaWall gave Nicki DiCampli and Brad Roach. For DiCampli, the harsh suspension notice was changed to a verbal reprimand. For Roach, the equally brutal suspension notice was watered down to a letter of reprimand on the point that he didn't tell his supervisor quickly enough that he talked to Lourdes Lopez, a friend, former prosecutor and material witness in the Stidham murder.
Commission Chair Georgia Brousseau and Commissioner Mike Mincheff simply didn't buy LaWall's assumption that DiCampli must have known what Lopez knew or at least what Lopez told another appellant, Paul Skitzki, with whom DiCampli has a young son. Brousseau took LaWall to task, sharply, for relying on assumptions and not evidence. For DiCampli, who quit in March to prosecute crimes on the Pascua Yaqui Reservation, and Roach, who quit in April, the reversals mean three weeks of pay and considerable repair to their reputations. The commission, by a 3-0 vote, upheld LaWall's firing of Skitzki. Lopez testified that she told Skitzki about Dr. Brad Schwartz's alleged plans to have Stidham killed. Skitzki denied he had prior knowledge. He told Lopez to go to the police three days after the murder and called 88-CRIME himself. But Brousseau said Skitzki didn't go far enough. He should have, she said, immediately told his boss. Skitzki is now an assistant public defender.
Only Richard Huff, a staunch Republican who was a LaWall cheerleader from the beginning, backed LaWall on each case. His votes send a clear signal that while members of the Board of Supervisors appoint Merit commissioners, they do not control them. Huff was appointed by Ray Carroll, the Republican who has no love for LaWall.
An appeal to Superior Court by LaWall is not out of the question. She frequently doesn't live with Merit Commission decisions. But these decisions bring to a close this part of the battle. Janet Altschuler, another former prosecutor who was scheduled for a closed hearing next month, withdrew her appeal last week, saying that while she does not agree with her punishment--also a three-week suspension--that it was time to move on.
THE END IS NIGHHaving finally reached a budget deal with Gov. Janet Napolitano, the Arizona Legislature was, as of press time, slouching toward Sine Die, which, loosely translated from Latin, means "Let's get the hell out of here, already!"
The budget deal, reached last week, gave Napolitano the all-day kindergarten she wanted, as well as funding for the UA med school in Phoenix. But to get it, she had to agree to something she had staunchly opposed: a program that gives corporations tax breaks if they create scholarships for low-income kids who attend private schools. The program will cost $5 million annually for the next five years.
Napolitano managed to dodge a bigger bullet, a voucher program that conservative Republicans were salivating over, but by caving in on the tuition tax credits, she generated considerable ill will among Democrats in the House and Senate, who were left out in the cold during budget negotiations.
On the opposite side of the fence, some conservatives were grumbling that GOP leadership gave in too easily on the voucher issue. In their case, any budget the governor would be willing to sign was a budget they couldn't support.
SUDDENLY SUTTONThe unanswered question at U.S. District Court, where former Marana Mayor Bobby Sutton celebrated Cinco de Mayo with an arraignment along side co-defendant Richard Westfall, is why the feds didn't let the line out a little. Imagine if they'd let Waste Management pay Westfall at least the first in the monthly installments of up to $60,000 he and Sutton are accused of demanding from the trash hauler in a clumsy shakedown attempt.
Some of us wanted to see where that money would have gone, and who owed whom for what.
Sutton and Westfall have entered innocent pleas.
COPLAND POLITICSRoland Youngling lost, badly, in his Republican challenge to longtime Democratic Sheriff Clarence Dupnik last November, but it still ain't over, at least for some of Youngling's campaign financiers. The Yuma County Attorney (conflicts abound locally) is investigating whether those pushing and funding Youngling broke state campaign finance laws.
Youngling's treasury was chock full of improper contributions ("Funny Money," Tucson Weekly, Jan. 13), and now investigators are probing whether a cop union dumped a flood of money against Dupnik that far exceeded limits on political action committees. Youngling, meanwhile, is expected to start a new gig in security at the Evo A. DeConcini Federal Courthouse.