August 29, 1990
By Kathleen Stanton
Phoenix New Times
“I’m always nice to Bob Corbin, because if there’s one person in Arizona who can ruin your life, it’s the attorney general.”
This observation, made privately by one of the state’s most powerful politicians, reveals how much the office has changed since the days when Arizona’s attorney general did little more than dispatch a few earnest young barristers to advise state agencies on keeping their noses clean. Ever since the mid-Seventies, when then-Attorney General Bruce Babbitt persuaded the legislature to establish a state grand jury and let him chase land-fraud crooks, the prosecutorial powers of the attorney general have grown … and grown … and grown.
An attorney general inclined to make trouble for someone now has 250 lawyers with whom to do it. The bulk of the job remains the unglamorous toil of helping state agencies. But, thanks in large part to the bond between Corbin and retiring House Judiciary Chairman Jim Skelly, the office has expanded to criminal divisions for organized crime, drugs and fraud, as well as civil divisions in all sorts of novel areas of jurisdiction.
One result has been to transform the nature of campaigning for attorney general. “When people run for that office, they sound like they’re running for sheriff,” says lawyer Paul Eckstein, who co-prosecuted the impeachment of ex-Governor Evan Mecham. “The campaign rhetoric is like ‘I’m the meanest, biggest, baddest cat around.’ Well, the job’s a lot more complicated than that.
“And the bulk of the prosecutions are still done by county attorneys,” he says. “The idea that being a prosecutor is the chief qualification for attorney general is nonsense, but that’s what most of the candidates are focusing on.”
Of the five serious contenders for the job (a sixth, Bernie Lumbert, is not an attorney), all but one are heavily into crime-bustin’. To listen to the hype, you’d think Dick Tracy was running for office.
The heat of campaigning has given rise to so much bull merde that it is almost impossible to straighten out all the distortions, misrepresentations and counteraccusations flying around. There is, for instance, the matter of Republican Grant Woods suggesting that little Jennifer Wilson, the victim of rapist-murderer Richard Bible, would be alive today if it weren’t for the prisoner-release policies of Steve Twist, who is so far right he’s frequently accused of being a neo-Nazi.
Woods now says he was misquoted by a reporter; Twist responds, “Bullshit. I was present when he said it.” And so it goes.
What is true is that the Attorney General’s Office has grown so much during Corbin’s twelve years that its budget now exceeds the combined attorney-general budgets of Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah. It’s also true that this has made barely a dent on Arizona crime rates, which are still among the highest in the nation.
Yet, Arizonans love to vote for candidates who promise to throw all the criminals in jail. Under Corbin and Twist, the range of criminal laws expanded at an unprecedented rate and the jails filled to overflowing. But Louis Rhoads, state director for the American Civil Liberties Union, sounds a cautionary note:
“When the dictator [Nicolae] Ceausescu was killed this spring, it was reported that in the police state he created one in every thirty Romanians had spent time in jail,” Rhoads says. The West was shocked; everyone voiced outrage.
“But in 1988, one in every 27 men in the U.S. was in prison, jail or under correctional supervision,” he says, citing a recent study published in the ABA Journal. “We are rapidly reaching the point where there are more felons in the East Valley than there are Democrats.
“When you have laws creating sex police in schools, we are reaching the point where all manner of unusual behavior makes you a criminal,” he says.
Rhoads daily handles the complaints of lawbreakers who are not monsters like Richard Bible, but little guys who screwed up, and he says, “There is an enormous reaction by people when they realize the criminal class is them.”
So meet the people who want to be Arizona’s next Dick Tracy.
Maybe it has something to do with the most recent polls, which show Twist’s early lead fading behind moderate Grant Woods and Mecham supporter David Eisenstein. Or maybe, as Twist’s detractors would have it, it reveals something about the man himself.
Twist acts oblivious to the cheerless demeanor of his aides and gamely arranges himself in a casual slouch. Two hours later, he remains frozen in place, periodically exhaling tension in short sighs, like a steam engine at rest. If he knows any good jokes, he keeps them to himself.
By all custom, Steve Twist, for twelve years Corbin’s loyal first lieutenant, and an Arizona Republican since his teens, should be able to simply step forward and claim the mantle of office without serious competition. Instead, he’s scrimmaging for position in a field full of challengers with more natural appeal, and fewer liabilities, than he carries. He could, within the next two weeks, find himself looking for work in the private sector for the first time since he graduated from law school in 1974.
This has turned into a tough campaign for Twist. His actions and philosophy are under sharp attack not just from his campaign opponents, but from an audience of interested onlookers. Every time Twist opens his mouth to brag about his agency’s record, he ends by defending it.
For years, he has wielded more prosecutorial power than almost any other individual in the state, and that has served to muzzle a lot of criticism. Now, however, among the people whose faces he stepped on during his long rise through the staffs of former Governor Jack Williams, the state House of Representatives and, finally, Corbin’s office, it’s payback time.
Twist, choosing his own ground, emphasizes crime-fighting first among his achievements. “The attorney general should, first and foremost, be the lawyer for the people of Arizona,” he says. He expresses pride in his role in revising Arizona’s criminal code, the establishment or expansion of criminal prosecution divisions within his office, and his advocacy of the Victims’ Rights Initiative.
“My ultimate goal, my aspiration, is to be a prosecutor,” Twist says. “If I lose this election, I’ll figure out some way to stay involved with law enforcement.”
That’s what worries people about Twist. “He’s a supercop who wants to put people in jail, to punish,” says Michael Kimerer, a member of the Arizona Bar Association board of governors. “He has no interest in crime prevention or in crime victims. It’s a power thing, a control thing with him.”
Kimerer and other defense lawyers say Twist is, by far, “the scariest” of all the candidates for attorney general and say the line between the accused and the guilty has become increasingly blurred with every change in the law he has wrought.
Twist, who has never tried a case in court, insists his motives are pure. “I don’t have an ideological commitment to punishment,” he says. “I do have an ideological commitment to feeling that government’s first responsibility is to protect the life and property of people who live in the state.
“Beyond that, I feel we need to explore whatever works. I happen to believe incapacitation works to reduce the crime rate.” His bland features flicker with energy as he describes the possibilities–house arrest, intensive probation, incarceration.
Asked to discuss what causes crime, Twist sighs and waves his hand. “That’s the $64,000 question, the elusive notion that, if we could truly identify the cause of crime, we could solve it . . . and there’s some truth to that,” he says. Two years ago, Twist told New Times he believed some people were born with a predilection for criminal behavior, an interesting theory which enjoyed great popularity during the last century.
He now talks a kinder, gentler line. “The lack of opportunity for kids, high dropout rate, weak economy, drugs, the demand TV creates to acquire consumer goods as a measure for the worth of a person, it’s been established these all contribute,” he acknowledges, veering in the same breath from crime to punishment. “Particularly in theft, the environment we create through a lack of consequences creates a climate of tolerance.”
Twist is very interested in theft these days. Larceny, primarily car theft, soared nearly 20 percent over the past three years. Arizona, in fact, has the third-highest crime rate in the country–despite having one of the biggest, and most lavishly funded, attorney general’s offices in the United States.
During the past twelve years, the attorney general’s annual budget has grown from $3 million to nearly $30 million, the fastest rise of any state agency during that period. The attorney general’s budget is twice that of Colorado, a state with comparable population, and Corbin makes nearly as much money as his counterparts in Texas and Illinois, whose populations are three times that in Arizona.
Yet, the crime rate has been increasing faster than the rate of population growth during the same years. This dichotomy embodies Twist’s difficulty in defending his own record. He does so by asserting that the figures are misleading. “Our budget is bigger than the surrounding states because our responsibilities are broader than those of their attorney generals,” he says. “When I started with the office, we did no environmental prosecutions, no health-fraud prosecution, no organized-crime prosecution or child support, or debt-collection work.
“Our crime rate rose during the Sixties and Seventies, at a time when our rate of incarceration dropped,” he says of the embarrassing trend in crime. “As we revised and strengthened the criminal laws and began putting more people in jail, the effects have begun to be felt and our rates for violent crime have started dropping.” (State and federal statistics show violent crime has dropped nearly 12 percent in the past three years, he contends.)
Critics claim that Twist has not used his power to organize an effective fight against crime, but instead to develop a finely honed lobbying machine designed to get legislative approval for more lawyers, more money and more authority. And they question his ability to lobby successfully now that his chief backer, state Representative Jim Skelly, is retiring. “Twist’s credibility is shot with the legislature,” says one longtime lobbyist. “He’s double-dealt too many people and without Skelly there to protect him, he’s dead.”
Senate Majority Leader Leo Corbet, asked to comment, says with slow emphasis, “I would have a tough time accepting him, that he needed changes on anything.
“Their civil division has 25 trial lawyers, and they only tried sixteen cases last year,” says Corbet, a lawyer. “They’ve advocated flawed laws, given us bad legal advice and told us they wanted one thing and then gone over to the House and asked for something different.”
As the agency has grown in size and power, it has become more authoritarian, critics contend. “Twist’s attitude is that the state is always right; it doesn’t make mistakes,” Kimerer says. To name but a few of the agency’s most controversial actions:
- The Attorney General’s Office battled residents of Casa Grande in court, defending the state Department of Environmental Quality’s right to issue an operating permit to an industry emitting large amounts of air pollution, despite objections from local and federal authorities. DEQ lost the case in Superior Court but is pressing forward with an appeal.
- The attorney general has yet to take an environmental-crimes case to trial, and the agency’s plea bargains have been too weak to propel a single polluter into jail. Twist says the problem is that judges are giving lenient sentences. But in one recent decision involving hazardous-waste dumping by the Hexcel Company of Tucson, the judge told Assistant Attorney General Marty Woelfle, “When the attorney general agrees to plead the indictment down to a [lower level] felony, and it’s a first offense, you can’t expect jail time.”
In 1980, Twist helped anti-abortion legislators write a law designed to exclude Planned Parenthood of Arizona from obtaining federal family-planning funds. It was immediately overturned by a lower court as unconstitutional, but the Attorney General’s Office continued to argue–unsuccessfully–for its reinstatement up through the U.S. Supreme Court, a process which took nearly a decade and cost taxpayers $200,000.
Former state legislator Trent Franks, however, applauds Twist for “defending the rights of the unborn” and says he believes Twist would be the most effective advocate for the rights of the unborn among candidates in the Republican primary.
Franks, now chairman of the Family Action PAC and director of the Arizona Family Research Institute, says Twist has his personal endorsement. “Having served on the Judiciary Committee, I can say that Steve has his fingerprints on much of the current criminal law,” Franks says. “He has been a special catalyst in the area of victims’ rights.”
Two years ago, Twist lobbied the state legislature to pass a victims’ rights initiative, but flubbed the move. The measure, which placed extreme limits on the rights of an accused, ignited opposition from a host of sources, not just defense lawyers. Twist’s handling of it also sealed the end of his credibility as a lobbyist, say Corbet and others.)
Since then, Twist has worked to strengthen the grassroots movement supporting the current ballot initiative, inoffensively building a constituency for himself at the same time. Twist recently made headlines across the state when, at the invitation of the victim’s family, he attended the trial of Richard Bible, subsequently convicted of raping and murdering a nine-year-old girl in Flagstaff.
“I didn’t do that to gain political advantage, although people say I did,” Twist says. “The Victims’ Rights Movement has changed my life and how I think. I used to be more analytical and detached about criminal justice, but it’s no longer an academic exercise for me. I really do think there’s injustice and it’s time to stop it.”
Twist’s biggest problem as a politician is that he can make a statement like that without conveying a shred of genuine emotion, whether or not he actually feels it. In fact, the popular momentum behind the Victims’ Rights Initiative, and Twist’s identification with it, may be the best thing his campaign has going for it.
He had defined himself as a social conservative and a law-and-order hardliner, which costs him support from moderates, yet his efforts to garner support within the Christian Right and the criminal justice system have not been very successful.
“Our members are split pretty evenly among the three Republican candidates,” says Sydney Hoff, president of the Lincoln Caucus, which lobbies for the conservative agenda within the Republican party. In June, Twist took a direct hit when the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the largest police union in the state, announced it was endorsing Grant Woods in the primary. Twist’s explanation? “Woods’ campaign manager does a lot of legal work for the policemen.” Woods has practically swept the endorsements of party leaders and key activists–which insiders say is an index of how unpopular Twist is within his own party. “If the election boiled down to Twist versus [Democratic candidate Richard] Segal, it’d be all I could do to restrain myself from voting for the Democrat,” says one Republican party leader.
Grant Woods reminds you of the good-looking young sheriff of old movie serials who rides into town smiling and saves everyone from the evil railroad lawyer trying to steal land.
He is tall, fit and tanned. He’s also full of energy and ideas, and self-deprecating wit. In campaign appearances around the state, Woods puts people at ease with his candor and warmth. “I represent fresh blood and a moderate approach,” he says. “If people want extremism, they’ll get it in David Eisenstein. If they want the status quo, they’ll elect Twist; that’s the way our system works. But I’m not going to take positions just to curry votes.”
Sitting behind the huge oak desk in a law office full of eclectic memorabilia, Woods presides over a staff of bright, gregarious young people. Some days he shows up wearing khaki work clothes and cowboy boots, in striking contrast to his tightly buttoned-down rivals.
Much of Woods’ charm stems from his ability to remind people that politics can be fun. Without Woods on the dais, the Republican primary would be excruciatingly dull.
His manner is so disarming it is easy to forget that he is, above all, a politician of unusual talent and astuteness. The simile of the sheriff versus the railroad lawyer was first used to compare John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. That it describes Woods as well reflects how clearly he understands the Kennedy allure. He says Robert F. Kennedy is one of his heroes.
“The Republican party needs a large dose of compassion,” Woods says. “We must become more and more concerned with the problems of human beings, and I hope that’s the way of the next decade.”
Woods has been up to his gunwales in politics for most of his short career (he is 36, the youngest of the five candidates for attorney general.) His father, Mesa developer Joe Woods, is a longtime Republican party contributor. And Grant Woods was Senator John McCain’s top aide for two years. In addition to working for McCain, he worked on the campaigns of Congressmen John Rhodes and Jim Kolbe (which helps to explain the steady flow of adulatory prose from Kolbe’s brother, Phoenix Gazette columnist John Kolbe.)
Woods is enormously popular among party leadership and has swamped his opponents with endorsements. He is supported not only by moderates, predictable enough given his McCain ties, but by conservatives–he won so many endorsements from East Valley and rural Mormons that his campaign issued a news release listing more than a dozen prominent names. Tracy Thomas, chairman of the ultraconservative Lincoln Caucus, is supporting him “even though we differ on an issue he’s very involved with–abortion,” Woods says.
Even a few Democratic leaders have gone South for him, Eddie Basha being the best known among them. Woods is particularly proud of those endorsements as they underscore his ability to attract Democratic votes.
McCain’s endorsement, however, has backfired. Though Woods claims to be proud of his connection to the senator, McCain has become a leper since being linked to Charlie Keating and the savings-and-loan scandal. Woods’ former boss is nowhere to be seen in this campaign, and the only people mentioning his name are Eisenstein and Mecham, who tell voters Woods is McCain’s pawn.
Outside politics, Woods’ record is limited. What there is of it, however, is good. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from college and earned respect as a public defense lawyer for Maricopa County, his first job. “He was one of the best public defenders they’ve ever had in that office,” attorney Michael Kimerer says. “He’s bright, and he worked very diligently on behalf of his clients.”
Woods is remembered by criminal defense lawyers for bringing off “classic Perry Mason-style defenses” in a couple of cases he handled as public defender. Lawyer Paul Eckstein, a Democratic party leader, faced Woods later in a civil trial and calls him “a very solid lawyer, a straight guy.”
Woods’ years of sparring in court are evident as he takes punches at Twist on the issues. His range of experience, like that of Democrat Richard Segal, is comforting to those concerned about Twist’s influence. “Under Corbin and Twist, prosecutors have developed almost into a separate class of lawyers, very isolated and almost paranoid about the rest of the profession,” observes a top Phoenix civil attorney. “We’ve been moving towards a set of professional prosecutors who just react like robots; they don’t use any judgment in deciding who to prosecute. The result is a lot of time and energy spent on very dubious cases. We need someone in there with a sense of balance, who’s got more to them than a strong instinct to punish.”
Woods means to establish that image in the Republican primary. “I don’t know any lawyer I respect who thinks Twist is fair,” he says. “The way he’s manipulated the criminal code isn’t fair. It’s not a matter of being `soft’ versus `hard’ on crime. I believe we can fight crime effectively without trampling on individual liberties.”
Some of Woods’ ideas–investing the attorney general as state drug czar and clamping more limits on parole–appeal directly to the folks with guns under their beds, yet he bridles at being considered a conservative like Twist. “I want my assistant AGs out in the community, talking to young people, working to help keep them off drugs,” he says of his antidrug strategy.
When asked what the attorney general’s priorities should be, Woods cites environmental protection, civil rights and consumer protection, issues on which most yuppie liberals cut their political teeth.
“The conventional wisdom is that you have to talk in terms of law and order to win the Attorney General’s Office, but I’ve talked about a lot of other things–environmental protection, civil rights, consumer protection–that the attorney general should take the lead on,” Woods says. “I’ve found it was as I’d hoped; we can be effective campaigning on environmental and consumer issues.”
On two of the hottest topics, abortion and the Victims’ Rights Initiative, Woods offers thoughtful, but ultimately ambiguous, positions. He is pro-choice, he says, but disagrees with Roe v. Wade. “I like the result it had, to legalize abortion, but I don’t think it was good law,” Woods says. “I don’t think you can read protection for abortion in the federal Constitution. I’m sorry if that disappoints people, but I’m a lawyer and I have to tell you what I think. I think the question has to be decided legislatively.”
Gloria Feldt, head of Planned Parenthood in Phoenix, finds Woods’ position disturbing. “It’s sort of the reverse of the usual waffle, `I’m pro-life but … ‘ . He says, `Of course I’m pro-choice, but I don’t believe in constitutionally based protections.’ I’m not too secure with that.”
Woods says he can support the current Victims’ Rights Initiative, despite its curtailment of defendants’ rights, because he doesn’t believe it will have much practical effect. “As a defense attorney, I can tell you that the elimination of pretrial interviews with victims won’t mean anything because they usually are worthless for the defense,” he says. “And the provision allowing victims to be present throughout the entire trial also has more apparent, than real, impact, because in most cases they testify early in the trial and then sit in on the remainder of the trial.
“The most important point about the Victims’ Rights Initiative is that it isn’t the panacea it’s hyped to be,” Woods says. “It doesn’t do a thing to enhance victim assistance or restitution.”
Altogether, Woods and his ideas create an appealing package, especially to Republicans otherwise stuck with choosing between an apparatchik and an oddball. But there is an undercurrent of political cynicism in the Woods campaign, and its implications are unsettling.
Woods says he genuinely enjoys reporters and seems to like spending time with them. (The other candidates, by contrast, can barely conceal their loathing for the media.) But he also attempts to use the media in a way far more blatant than his opponents.
Woods’ campaign has been a steady source of damaging–and, in at least one case, unprovable–leaks concerning other candidates, though Woods distances himself from these tidbits when asked a direct question.
Woods’ instinct for self-promotion rivals that of his mentor McCain, who arrived with little more than a carpetbag, married a rich woman and walked off with a congressional seat, almost before he’d received his Arizona driver’s license.
In a June hearing before 3,500 people, Woods claimed credit for forcing the release of a document that badly embarrassed Twist’s office and the DEQ over the ENSCO hazardous-waste plant. New Times, however, had been seeking release of the document for at least two weeks before Woods’ campaign learned of its existence (and subsequently leaked the tip to another newspaper and TV station.)
Woods claims he’s not merely using the attorney general’s seat as a steppingstone to higher office, yet his candidacy draws more questions about motivation than do any of the others. There is no echo anywhere in his resume of previous interest in the causes he is now espousing, and the community activities he does list reek of the generic resume-building common to politicians on the make.
He’s also told a lot of people things they wanted to hear, at times making commitments that seem mutually exclusive. He tells conservative audiences in Phoenix he would slice the attorney general’s bloated budget in a heartbeat. But he promises rural audiences, who feel slighted by Corbin, that he’ll open branch offices and delegate manpower to help overloaded country prosecutors in the out-counties.
Woods’ shortcomings, however, tend to pale beside his attractive qualities. Many observers say their only source of unease is that he hasn’t been around long enough to have much history coupled with the fact, says one insider, “He’s a real political guy.”
No matter what else may be said of David Eisenstein, you gotta love a guy who’s figured out a way to put Charlie Keating on death row.
Eisenstein is a rank newcomer known chiefly for being Ev Mecham’s candidate–indeed, he was not known at all before Mecham started introducing him around. Since June, however, when he burst upon the public consciousness with the declaration that “economic treason” should be punishable by death, Eisenstein has displayed a growing flair for the outrageous.
Now he regularly spouts off on topics ranging from big-time drug-money laundering to street-gang violence. Three weeks ago, he and Mecham called a press conference at which Eisenstein asserted that he would ignite an anticrime war against “the drug mega-bussiness [sic] kingpins so as to send a signal around Arizona–from Phoenix to Flagstaff, from Tucson to Tampa, and from Bullhead to Bogota that we will not tolerate any longer Arizona’s role as the cocaine funnel for the world.
“This same signal will be hand- delivered and faxed by me in Arizona to the Bankers [sic] and Brokers’ business offices.” He also promises to issue a white paper on organized crime, complete with an analysis of its interconnection with Arizona’s business leaders. “It’s very important for the future of our state to have a very full, documented discussion of organized crime in Arizona,” Eisenstein says. “People have been kept from the truth about organized crime in my view.”
Neither Twist nor Woods is up to the task, he adds. “They are controlled by the power elite, and I don’t think [the elite] care about these things; they only care about lining their pockets,” Eisenstein says. How else, he asks, can you explain the attorney general’s failure to solve the 1976 murder of newspaper reporter Don Bolles?
Eisenstein, like his sponsor, annoys the hell out of mainstream politicians and political analysts. He can’t possibly deliver what he promises, the pundits grumble. And even if he managed to produce a white paper on crime, they reason, all he’d do is get himself sued for defamation by a bunch of scumbags who’d probably win unless he could manage to indict them for something at the same time. And, anyway, he’d lose the cases and have to learn the hard way that the reason these scumbags are so rich is because they’re slippery.
Eisenstein’s naivete is so annoying, in fact, that it is easy to overlook the popular appeal of what he’s saying. At first none of the experts even bothered to talk to Eisenstein. Then they said he would only get the hard-line Mechamites. But recent polls show he’s splitting off conservative support from the Twist camp, putting him in second place behind Woods.
Not bad for a guy entering politics for the first time–and not just state politics, any politics. To hear the veteran pols tell it in Tucson (where he lives), Eisenstein has never so much as ventured forth to a Republican ladies’ luncheon, let alone done something as unexpected as barnstorming the state for votes.
Even after crossing the threshold from private to public life, he still seems the least-likely person in Arizona to join Mecham’s slate. Eisenstein is an honors law graduate who went on to co-found one of the largest law firms in southern Arizona, and his civic involvement up to now has been limited to the Kiwanis Club and Little League.
What is this gentle, diffident young man doing amid the convocation of semiliterate cranks who orbit the Gov (as the parking spot outside Mecham’s headquarters still reads)? Well, for the answer to that question, one must probe Eisenstein’s penchant for taking up the causes of Mecham and his sympathizers, which dates back several years.
Eisenstein’s first contact with the separate reality of Arizona’s Mutant Right came when he undertook to argue the case of William Heuisler, a Mecham intimate who sued the Arizona Republic in 1986. Heuisler, who was up for an appointment by Mecham, felt he was being abused by then-Republic columnist Pat Murphy, just because of some legal untidiness in his background involving convictions for disorderly conduct.
The judge, needless to say, threw out Heuisler’s suit at the first available opportunity, it being very difficult to prove libel when you are as colorful a character, and as much in the news, as Heuisler was in those days. Or when what’s being written about you is, in essence, documented by public record.
Eisenstein, however, drew a different lesson from this skirmish. He says it taught him about “the lock the Pulliam press has on information in this state.” His conviction deepened, Eisenstein says, as he watched the media and then the legislature tuck it to Mecham over what he regards as politically motivated charges–such as the death threat by one Mecham aide (another convicted felon, as it happens) to a former aide, and the loan of state monies to the Mecham car dealership.
Referring to the subsequent indictment of then-Mecham aide Sam Steiger for extortion, stemming from yet a third incident, Eisenstein says, “I was outraged. I thought the Steiger prosecution was a joke. What Steiger was doing was carrying out a political activity, playing hardball, as it were.” (Steiger was convicted of firing Ron Johnson from his state-salaried job for refusing to vote as Mecham directed on an issue before the state Board of Pardons and Paroles, to which Mecham had appointed Johnson. Steiger’s conviction was later overturned on a technicality and the Attorney General’s Office declined to retry the case.)
At the very same time this was all happening, Eisenstein says, one of his clients had a real crime problem and couldn’t get anyone in the Pima County attorney’s office, the Attorney General’s Office or the state Department of Public Safety, to help. “My client was suing some people who had fleeced him for about $300,000 in bad investments, and during settlement negotiations they sent a guy over who claimed to be Tony Bonanno to shake my client down,” Eisenstein says. “The man told my client that these people would cause all sorts of trouble if he didn’t agree to their settlement and drop the case.”
“I called DPS and the County Attorney’s Office, and the AG’s, and it just became a mess and a nightmare for me,” he says. “They never did anything, and the DPS said they couldn’t put enough men on it because they were up here trying to convict Steiger and Mecham.”
Pima County attorney Stephen Neely responds, “The case was thoroughly investigated by the county attorney and the attorney general, and there was virtual unanimity among us that there was no case.
“The [shakedown artist] is not a Bonanno, he’s a small-time car thief who was in jail on a parole violation by the time we interviewed him,” Neely says. “He was offering to exchange testimony if we wouldn’t revoke his parole. This case was reviewed by investigators with law-enforcement experience totalling more than sixty years, and it was their opinion that he was not a credible witness.”
Eisenstein was so angered by the brush-off, he says, that he confronted Neely in a public meeting and posed a “rhetorical” question, “What have you done to break the Mob’s grip on Pima County?”
Later, Eisenstein says he turned to Thad Curtis, “whose opinion I greatly respect,” for a straight answer to the question of whether Pima Country is really and truly run by organized crime. Curtis, who made headlines when he advised Mecham to strip DPS down to its highway patrol division because it had become “too political at the top,” confided to Eisenstein, “Yeah, it is.”
Eisenstein became so distrustful of the protection offered by law- enforcement agencies that he bought a gun for self-protection and joined the National Rifle Association a year ago. “I asked Curtis to introduce me to Mecham,” Eisenstein says. “I told him I was interested in running for attorney general but that I supported him, but that I was concerned that people wouldn’t accept me if I switched parties.” Eisenstein was a registered Democrat, but says his friends had always told him he was a Republican at heart, and he doesn’t believe the Democrats have what it takes to lead Arizona into the Nineties.
Mecham, his remarkable political instincts fully intact, told Eisenstein not to waste time worrying about being accepted, “just to do what I felt was right.” (In a state where the political system has barely evolved beyond Stone Age chaos, most people can barely remember their own registration, let alone that of a candidate six months prior to the election.)
So Eisenstein, after 38 years in peaceful obscurity, took up the sword and joined Mecham’s crusade against crime and corruption. Mobsters from Bullhead to Bogota, beware.
Georgia Staton, as described by herself, is a blunt, street-wise prosecutor with a strong record of avenging wronged citizens and taking down big-time bad guys. She is also, to quote the same source, the only Democrat with the guts and savvy to be attorney general and the voter appeal to beat a Republican in November. She frequently sounds as much like a law-and-order hard-liner as Republican Steve Twist.
Staton came with a whisper of beating Republican Richard Romley in the 1988 Maricopa County attorney’s race. Sounding many of the same campaign themes as now, she gloried in portraying herself as “one tough lady,” to use the description of supporter Alfredo Gutierrez.
She was a formidable campaigner and her list of campaign backers read like a Who’s Who of Arizona’s political landscape, including some top Republicans as well as almost all the Democratic leadership. Before nearly beating Romley, Staton knocked out her primary opponent, assistant county attorney Myrna Parker, with an attack strategy so fierce it set new records for negative campaigning.
Staton has spent most of her professional life as a prosecutor, including six years as an assistant attorney general, and prides herself on never having defended an accused criminal. In person and before audiences, Staton projects immense energy and almost obsessive determination.
“I think the primary qualities you need as attorney general are energy and enthusiasm,” Staton says. “If you aren’t excited, you aren’t going to excite 251 lawyers, the public and the legislature as to the possibilities of that office.
“In addition, you need tenaciousness and a clear view of where you want to go,” she says. “You also need an incredibly thick skin because no matter what you do, someone’s not going to like it and is going to perceive motives that are not there.”
No one, having watched Staton tear apart first Parker, and then Romley, would question that she has all of the qualities described above. But something happened between then and now, and a lot of people who backed her in ’88 say she’s the wrong Democrat to vote for now.
Of the sixty major endorsements Staton had then, fewer than ten are still supporting her. As many as 48 of her former backers are now endorsing Democrat Richard Segal and five people are declining to make an endorsement in the primary despite starting her campaign well in advance of her rival.
What happened? Staton dismisses the defections and points to the new endorsements she has picked up. “Dick’s got all the lawyers,” she says. “I’ve got the support of seven county attorneys and a county sheriff, the law-enforcement associations, labor unions and the National Women’s Political Caucus.”
Former supporters, however, say the loss signifies growing doubts about Staton’s fitness for elective office. “Her scrap with Myrna was a catfight of the first water; it was needlessly personal in the way she attacked her opponent,” says David Tierney, a Phoenix lawyer and party activist. “No matter who you believe started it, many people felt that on no condition should a candidate allow him- or herself to be drawn into that kind of thing.
“A lot of people also felt she was hard to work with,” Tierney says. “She gets her back up quick and seems to delight in being flinty. I have difficulty seeing her negotiating a settlement, which is how most cases end, because she takes needlessly hard positions right away.”
Defense lawyer Michael Kimerer finds disturbing nuances in Staton’s forceful personality. “She has a disdain for people,” he says. “I call it prosecutorial arrogance; it’s a kind of disdain for the system and people in general. She seems to be the type of person who’ll do anything to win, even if it means breaking the rules.”
Concern over Staton’s competitive drive is rampant among others in her profession. The only documented basis for it, however, stems from a 1983 courtroom incident in which Staton misrepresented her involvement in an attorney general’s fraud case, while under oath as a witness. Staton, then a prosecutor in the criminal division, denied being informed of civil negotiations between the accused and her office. After she left the Attorney General’s Office, beaucoup documents were discovered in the files indicating she had been fed information from the civil side, and may have even directed questioning to get evidence useful to her criminal case, a potential serious violation of evidence-gathering rules.
When the documents finally came to light, the judge decided to let the case continue but rapped the Attorney General’s Office for its “lack of candor.” When confronted by New Times in 1988, Staton was unrepentant. She contended debate between sides in case had gotten “highly personal” and denied deliberately withholding anything from the court. The only reason the incident was even brought up was to smear her campaign for county attorney, she claims. “The whole thing was the cheapest, dirtiest political trick I’ve ever seen,” she says.
Staton contends much of the criticism of her qualifications is generated by defense lawyers scared that she’d launch the most aggressive prosecutorial program Arizona has seen in years, which she promises to do if elected. “I’ve stood in the courtroom hundreds of times and been before the Grand Jury,” Staton says. “I don’t think you can lead the racketeering, organized crime, consumer-fraud divisions, unless you’ve been there yourself. They won’t respect you.”
Segal, however, contends she has hyped her prosecutorial record. Pointing to cases she cited when pressed for specifics, he notes that she was neither the main prosecutor nor did the indictments involved organized crime, as she had claimed. While appearing together recently on a radio talk show, Segal’s request for specifics prompted the following exchange:
Staton: I’ll just name a couple off the top of my head.
Segal: Slowly, I’ve been waiting to hear them.
Staton: Well, Dick, if you’ve read the paper you’d know: Jerry Ackland, Royden Brown, Joe Palma … All of these people have been in prison and they’ve been in prison because I prosecuted the cases. And it’s really astounding, quite frankly, that after all these months when we’ve got so many issues . . . that Dick is mucking around in a resume because that’s all he’s got to talk about, and I am finally glad that I was able to tell him because for every one of these cases that I’ve prosecuted, he has prosecuted exactly zero.
Segal: And those are not organized- crime cases.
Staton: You wouldn’t know one if you fell over it.
Segal, perhaps sensing that Staton’s manner is a potential liability, chooses to be long-suffering. “I’m a trial lawyer, and you learn to put up with all kinds of adversaries, and all kinds of judges, for that matter,” he says. “It is recognized among trial lawyers that a case can be hard-fought without any personal acrimony. Most people recognize I fight good, clean fights–heck, my courtroom adversaries are giving me money in this race. I’m just sorry the campaign has degenerated into insults.”
Staton contends she never strikes the first blow, and is merely reacting to attacks on her record. In point of fact, Staton opened up on her opponent in the third paragraph of her announcement speech and hasn’t stopped since.
She regularly issues open letters attacking Segal for his position on the issues, such as his opposition to the Victims’ Rights Initiative. Despite Segal’s record of humanitarian involvement in the community, Staton writes that “due to his lack of experience as a prosecutor he is not, and will not, be a true advocate for the victims of crime.”
In her most recent court appearance in private practice, however, Staton herself represented not the victims of crime, but the insurance company that wanted to avoid paying them damages.
The case, Twin City Fire Insurance Company v. Doe, involved an impoverished black woman who had been foster mother to, and then adopted, three retarded children. She discovered her husband was molesting the children, notified police and filed for divorce. The husband was sent to prison, and the wife was left to care for her three children on income from her job as an alcohol and drug counselor. She attempted to force her homeowners’ insurance policy to help pay for counseling for the children, and the company decided to file suit in order to establish that it is not obliged to pay damages for an intentional act that harms people under a roof it insures.
“This case has got nothing to do with victims’ rights,” Staton says. “To say it does is to misunderstand the legal significance of the case. This just says you cannot use our civil courts to vindicate crime.”
“The fact is, Judge Sylvan Brown had no difficulty finding that we were in the right,” Staton declares triumphantly.
Amid all the posturing of heartfelt concern for the cheated, the abused and the violated, the only candidate with a history of displaying that concern when the meter isn’t running is Democrat Richard Segal.
Segal, in one of those mean little ironies that afflict politics in the sound-bite era, is also the candidate with the slimmest chance of being elected.
What he has going for him is the respect and admiration of the legal profession, a wide base of endorsements (including many disenchanted former Georgia Staton supporters), and a long, long record of community involvement on behalf of the underdog.
But consider the obstacles he must hurdle: He’s never run for public office before, so most voters are still saying, “Richard Who?”. And he speaks his mind about sacred cows, like the Bolles investigation, thus giving his opponent repeated opportunities to show off her strong suit–dishing out insults.
Segal’s got nobody’s coattails to ride in on, he’s not particularly magnetic in front of an audience, and he tends to come up with complex solutions to complex problems, which confuses the TV folks.
Segal’s stature derives from his character and social conscience, say his supporters. “I think he brings to bear the judgment, the sense of fairness and the experience needed to make a good attorney general,” says Paul Eckstein, a prominent Phoenix Democrat.
“His strength is that he’s an old-time liberal, the kind who says the role of government is to protect rights and make sure people have a role, but not to impinge further,” says Rick DeGraw, Segal’s campaign manager. DeGraw has been shuttling Segal around the state at a fast clip in recent weeks, targeting key voter groups to boost his name recognition. Recent poll results show Segal still lagging behind Staton, but gaining steadily, DeGraw says.
Segal’s professional reputation began when he scored first in the Arizona bar exam in 1956, the year he was admitted to practice. Since then, he’s been a civil trial lawyer and has practiced extensively at the federal and state appellate level, where important case law–and legal reputations–is made. The American Bar Association lists him among the “Best Lawyers in America” in two categories.
“Dick Segal is one of the top trial lawyers in the state,” Eckstein says. “And he’s got the necessary administrative experience to be attorney general because he’s been managing partner of his law firm.”
Staton sneers at the accolades, and says, “It means nothing that he’s on a Top 10 list. When you’re around for thirty years and you’ve got ties to the Maricopa County and state bars, the fact is, you’re gonna get on some sort of list.” She has argued since the campaign began that Segal’s lack of experience as a prosecutor is a fatal flaw in his qualifications.
But the endorsements keep rolling in. State Representative David Bartlett, one of seventeen Pima County elected officials backing Segal, says he usually doesn’t take sides in the primary but made an exception for Segal. “He is just head and shoulders above all the others running,” Bartlett says. “He’s the most qualified candidate for the office in recent memory. It’s important to have an attorney general who knows what good lawyering is and isn’t. With Segal there will be a general demand for high-quality work from the office, and I can guarantee you’ll see an increase in the number and quality of applicants for assistant attorney general.”
As president of the State Bar of Arizona in 1973, Segal worked to increase the amount of pro bono (volunteer) legal services donated by the state’s lawyers. And he worked to improve standards in one of the messiest areas of the profession–domestic-relations law, which takes in divorce and child-custody disputes.
Segal, at 55 the oldest of the candidates, has served on the boards of agencies and nonprofit groups that fight discrimination, help needy families and protect the environment. Among the groups to which he has donated time are the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, Maricopa County Mental Health Association, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, City of Phoenix LEAP Commission, and San Pablo Home for Youth.
The real puzzle is why, with a resume like that, a six-figure income and a wife who loves him, would a man enter politics? It’s easy enough to understand the motives of the others: Twist is a career bureaucrat, Woods is a born politician, Staton is a 41-year-old associate who has yet to be offered a law partnership, and Eisenstein is on a holy war against crime.
But Segal, to a far greater extent than any of the other candidates, has attractive alternatives. He says his decision is based on conscience. “The fact is, I’ve been reasonably successful in the private sector and I feel citizens need to contribute to government in meaningful ways,” he says. “Much of the trouble we’re in is because people like me generally won’t run for office.”
Segal’s campaign differs in substance and style from the others, although he shares with Woods a sense that the office needs to broaden its horizons. He punctures the notion that being attorney general means playing Dick Tracy: “Every four years the office gets changed into what some think the voters want to see, and then after the election it changes back to what it really is,” Segal says. “The Attorney General’s Office has limited jurisdiction in the areas where most crime occurs, street crime. It needs to be dedicated to enforcing consumer laws, environmental laws and civil rights.”
Segal believes environmental protection should be a top priority, and he joins environmentalists in advocating fast-track enforcement. “We’ve got to use tools, such as temporary restraining orders and injunctions, to stop violations fast, before they create massive pollution problems that take years to clean up,” he says.
In states such as Ohio and New York, Segal notes, the attorney general is the chief enforcement official for environmental laws. “The attorney general has direct responsibility under our waste laws to enforce criminal and civil provisions. I’m going to read that `may’ as if it said `shall.’
“The same applies to racketeering and fraud; we need to stop those people before victims are created,” he says. “We have the power to go in and stop them. It’s a question of resolve, and of having people who know how to do it.
“There is simply no excuse for leaving people in an abusive situation for up to two weeks because the office doesn’t have anyone who knows how to file the necessary legal papers,” Segal says, referring to a recent case in which the Attorney General’s Office failed to act for more than a week after being notified by state workers that elderly people were being abused at a Chandler rest home.
Segal opposes the Victims’ Rights Initiative because he says it won’t help victims but offers his own proposal. “I want to do something to provide victims with real restitution,” he says. “Restitution shouldn’t depend on the resources of the particular criminal that harmed you.
“Currently, we have a victims’ restitution fund and a victims’ assistant fund that are vastly underfunded. The only source of money is a $30 surcharge levied on parolees,” Segal says. “I propose we make a greater application of criminal forfeiture monies, which amount to millions of dollars, all of which now goes to fund more prosecutions, police education and the like. None of this money is used for battered-women’s shelters, crisis nurseries or restitution.”
Segal raised eyebrows recently when he questioned the wisdom of spending more time and money investigating the Bolles murder. Staton immediately attacked, saying, “I think it’s bad judgment to make pronouncements about a criminal case based on a lack of knowledge, and what he knows is precious little.”
Segal refuses to back down, however. “What I said was, `If, after the current investigation is completed, no further indictments result, I think we need to take a serious look at whether it’s in the public’s best interest to allocate further resources,'” he explains.
“It’s a matter of prioritizing what serves the public best,” Segal explains. “You have to make decisions, you have to be willing to say `no.’ I have said I won’t enforce the state’s anti-abortion laws even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, because I feel the state Constitution contains an explicit right to privacy which covers abortion. I am not going to waste the public’s money arguing a position I believe is unconstitutional.”
Offering another example, Segal says the attorney general was “on the wrong side” of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest lawsuit that forced Phoenix and Tucson to strengthen their air cleanup plans.
“It’s up to the AG to tell an agency which cases it can appeal,” he says.
“Why didn’t someone in the Attorney General’s Office tell DEQ, `No, we’re going to pick our appeals, we’re going to make the law wisely.’?”
“Twist is a supercop who wants to put people in jail, to punish.”
“Twist’s credibility is shot with the legislature,” says one longtime lobbyist.
Woods is remembered by criminal defense lawyers for bringing off “classic Perry Mason-style defenses.”
Woods is an appealing package, especially to Republicans otherwise stuck with choosing between an apparatchik and an oddball.
Eisenstein’s first contact with the separate reality of Arizona’s Mutant Right came when he undertook to argue the case of William Heuisler.
Mecham, his remarkable political instincts fully intact, told Eisenstein not to waste time worrying about being accepted.
A lot of people who backed Georgia Staton in ’88 say she’s the wrong Democrat to vote for now.
“Staton gets her back up quick and seems to delight in being flinty.”
“Dick Segal is one of the top trial lawyers in the state.”
Segal raised eyebrows recently when he questioned the wisdom of spending more time and money investigating the Don Bolles murder.