WATCH YOUR MOUTH

To understand politics, you must first understand ambition and the thirst for power.

Take the case of Rick Romley. He was an anonymous figure when he joined the County Attorney's Office. His first supervisor was Michael Ryan, now a Superior Court judge.

The two did not hit it off. Ryan was cautious, always careful of a defendant's rights. Romley saw prosecuting as a way to attract attention to himself and boost his hopes for a political career.

Now Romley is finishing his first term as Maricopa County attorney. Ryan has become a respected judge-the jurist they turn to in the most controversial cases. It was Ryan who presided over the trial of former governor Evan Mecham. Ryan is now sitting in the AzScam case.

On this day, Romley and Ryan will meet again. The circumstances will be dramatic.

In the hallway outside Ryan's courtroom, I spot Romley. On his lips is the politician's small, tight smile.

For Romley, this expression, so close to a sneer, serves as a veil distancing him from friend and foe alike.

When the county attorney sees me, he raises his chin two full inches. His eyes are cold.

For most people, the raising of the chin is an act of defiance. But with Romley, it's nothing more than a nervous tic.

It has become a movement beyond Romley's control. Wherever Romley goes, his constantly rising chin travels along with him.

Romley's appearance, as always, is marked by his carefully groomed hair, held down with hair spray; his mustache; his cane; and, of course, the personal public relations man who is always at his side. Romley has become a character as stereotyped as any in The Pickwick Papers. Waiting now to enter Judge Michael Ryan's court with Romley is the press aide, Bill FitzGerald, a former radio man of unknown talents. FitzGerald's sole duties these days seem to be the handling of Romley's press relations.

FitzGerald has narrowed his workload considerably over the three years of Romley's term through a simple stratagem. FitzGerald denies access to the county attorney to any media people who have criticized Romley.

By this time, that leaves very few reporters acceptable to Romley and FitzGerald.

FitzGerald once told two reporters their presence was not allowed on the floor of the public building on which Romley's office is located.

You wrote bad things about him," FitzGerald said. You are not allowed here." I wonder what purpose FitzGerald's presence can possibly serve in the courtroom on this day. What favorable light can he possibly place on Romley's appearance on the witness stand?

We will all see and hear everything Romley says. There will be no room left for spin control.

Perhaps FitzGerald understands that ancient, enigmatic Armenian proverb: A thousand men cannot undress a naked man." Perhaps no matter how badly Romley has crossed the line, there will be no one brash enough to bring him down.

Romley has been summoned to appear this day by Judge Ryan just before the opening of the AzScam trial. He must answer questions under oath about prejudicial comments he made about former state senator Carolyn Walker at a meeting of more than 100 Republicans a few nights previous.

One of those present at the meeting, a lawyer named Robert Updike, reported that Romley had violated a court order by discussing Walker's case in a prejudicial manner on the eve of opening arguments in her case.

Here is how Romley reportedly behaved:
When it came Romley's turn to speak, he began by grinning and saying, `Well, I suppose you'd all like to know how AzScam's doing?'" Updike said.

Then Romley told the crowd how Murray Miller, Walker's lawyer, had tried to make a plea bargain that would have kept his client out of jail.

Romley added that Miller agreed to plead his client guilty to two felony charges if the prosecution would drop a bribery charge against her.

I refused to let my attorneys go along with that," Romley told the crowd.
It's difficult for nonlawyers to understand the seriousness of this infraction.
Romley already had the power to indict, which is, of course, tantamount to the power to destroy. And in the case of Walker, this is exactly what Romley had done.

But on the night in question, before a large crowd of Republican activists, many of whom were certain to spread the word, Romley suffered a total ethical collapse.

He publicly announced that Walker's attorney was admitting his client's guilt even before the trial started.

If this information reached any of the jurors, the effect on their ability to give Walker a fair trial would be deadly.

Here are portions of the Arizona Supreme Court rule about pretrial publicity:
A lawyer shall not make an extrajudicial statement he knows will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing a proceeding." And there is a further prohibition against spreading information the lawyer knows is likely to be inadmissible as evidence in a trial and would, if disclosed, create a substantial risk of prejudicing an impartial trial. ..." Romley was clearly guilty on both counts.

Was the legal system prepared to deal with Romley's obvious offenses?

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