By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Attorney Steve Doncaster, an ardent cyclist, was pedaling home from work the other day. He was heading west on Washington Street from his office at Salt River Project when a car pulled out of a side street, crashing into Doncaster and his bike head-on.
The driver fled. A Good Samaritan who witnessed the incident gave chase and convinced him to return to the scene.
At first, the paramedics thought Doncaster's neck was broken. They transported him to the hospital, where x-rays proved negative. But Doncaster's entire body was covered with deep, painful bruises. He was unable to move his right shoulder. His newly purchased bike, which he was riding for only the second time, was turned into a metal pretzel.
"You've got a great lawsuit," a man told Doncaster.
"No," Doncaster said. "The driver doesn't even have insurance. No point in going to court. Why make life harder for the poor guy?"
Steve Doncaster does not possess your typical lawyer's mentality. He is an altruistic sort who would rather leap in on the side of the underdog than explore clever ways to avoid the law.
Doncaster is an exception to the current breed of barrister. At 41, he has been a member of the bar for ten years, and there is no evidence that Doncaster has ever given a thought to making himself wealthy. He does not even own a car. He travels by bus and bicycle.
Instead of taking skiing vacations to Aspen or jaunts to Las Vegas, Doncaster uses his own funds to take international trips to study human rights violations in terrorist hot spots like Nicaragua, El Salvador and Belfast in Northern Ireland.
Doncaster and nine other Arizona lawyers, including former congressman Jim McNulty, traveled to Belfast to survey the situation and to sit in as observers on a hearing for three suspected IRA terrorists.
Their weeklong visit was prompted by Father Des Wilson, a Belfast priest, who spoke here in Phoenix at an Arizona Bar Association event this past January.
Father Wilson's speech here was sponsored by a Bar Association group to which Doncaster belongs: the "World Peace Through Law" section.
Father Wilson told the Arizona lawyers about the plight of seven Irish Catholic teenagers who had been arrested on suspicion of bombing a British Army vehicle in August 1991.
According to Father Wilson, four of the young men were beaten so badly in prison that a judge ruled they were no longer competent to defend themselves, and set them free.
This incident was not surprising to those familiar with police policies of the Royal Ulster Constabulary during the 25 years of fighting in Northern Ireland.
During the period Doncaster and his group were in Belfast, they learned about the classic torture techniques casually employed to obtain confessions from anyone picked up as a suspect.
An Amnesty International study of the R.U.C. found that it consistently used any or all of the following techniques during interrogation:
"Beating and kicking; bending the wrist backwards; forcing suspects to run in place or stand for hours; pulling the hairs on a prisoner's chest or lifting him by his mustache; pouring cola drinks into his ears; banging his head against the wall; holding his head underwater; kicking and squeezing the testicles; placing a plastic bag or hood, or a pair of soiled underpants, over the suspect's head; making the prisoner behave in a bizarre manner (one man was ridden like a horse by an interrogator and then forced to eat mucus from a policeman's nose)."
It was not uncommon for prisoners to attempt suicide during detention. Many were placed under psychiatric care or showed signs of organic brain damage following their releases.
Doncaster is used to threatening situations. He traveled to Nicaragua in 1986 and to El Salvador in 1988.
"In El Salvador," Doncaster recalls, "a huge segment of the population had no voice. The military was extremely harsh in its repression. We were there to offer our support, because people were being murdered in the streets. We even accompanied them on their demonstrations. I was scared all the time."
Doncaster says he went to these places because he had read a lot about the situations and wanted to see for himself.
"Truthfully, I never felt as much fear in Belfast as I did in Nicaragua," Doncaster says. The trip to Northern Ireland did come after both the IRA and the Protestant leadership had agreed to seek peace.
The Arizona group of lawyers was given an itinerary by Father Wilson; the lawyers spoke to Catholics and Protestants alike.
Doncaster explained, "Father Wilson thought that if we went to the hearing for the three members of the Ballymurphy Seven still in prison that our presence in the courtroom might have an impact."
The Belfast Crown court on Crumlin Road is directly across the street from a prison. It has been described as a bleak and inhospitable place. It has a pastel-wedding-cake exterior surrounded by high fences and heavy security.
Inside, the halls are perpetually filled with men wearing flak jackets and revolvers with polished handles. The atmosphere is always highly charged, as stone-faced policemen stare down the accused and their sullen supporters. It is an atmosphere of controlled hatred.
The causes of the hatred are rooted in the rules of a game that has gone on for decades. When the R.U.C. arrests someone suspected of belonging to the IRA, police beat him unmercifully. When the IRA gets a chance, it shoots policemen down--an average of a dozen per year.
"The authorities in the courthouse provided us seats in a box they reserved for observers," Doncaster says. "There was a similar box across the room from us that was filled with Northern Irish cops in plain clothes who sat staring daggers at us the whole time. If only looks could kill . . ."
Doncaster watched as the three young men, now 21, were released on bail, which was considered tantamount to being acquitted. All three said confessions had been beaten out of them, and police admitted they had "misplaced" the evidence. The judge said he had serious "concerns" about the charges.
In the same issue of the Belfast newspaper that trumpeted the release of the three suspected IRA men, there were separate short articles reporting that two retired policemen had been gunned down. One was hit while he was sitting in a hotel bar sipping a drink. The other was shot as he stepped out of his car in front of his home.
Doncaster arrived home in Phoenix feeling satisfied that he and his colleagues had acquitted themselves in the true spirit of lawyers. They had worked to further justice without violence.
So Doncaster was surprised when he received notification requesting that he and his group appear before the Arizona Bar to answer questions about what they had done in Northern Ireland. Upon inquiry, Doncaster learned that at least one member of the bar's board of directors was wary about the group's references to "World Peace Through Law." He feared it sounded communistic.
The imputation of all this was that the Arizona Bar was considering disbanding Doncaster's group, as if it were a sort of pernicious political influence. So he wrote a carefully worded reply to be read at his group's appearance before the board of directors last Friday.
"While murder, rape and even environmental pillage are employed by extremists as political tools to achieve ideological ends, it is a misnomer to allow such gross human behavior to miscast the term 'peace' as political. It is not.
"To mischaracterize peace as in the context of American jurisprudence is to simply overlook what we [lawyers] do for a living and how the legal community can best serve the American community.
"At a time when 'lawyer bashing' has become commonplace, along with ethnic, gender, religious and other forms of hate-spirited slurs, our profession needs to calmly clarify its definition of self. Lawyers are ethically bound to resolve disputes civilly and nonviolently. That means peacefully. At its most fundamental, peace is our profession."
Doncaster's rhetoric carried the day. The "World Peace Through Law" section of the Arizona Bar will live to see another day.
It is interesting that the Arizona Bar has plenty of time to harass lawyers willing to spend their own time and money while maintaining the highest ethical standards.
It's more than a little maddening, however, that the Bar Association's stuffed shirts do not choose to see the overwhelming everyday corruption of greedy, ethically handicapped lawyers in this state.
Is it impertinent to ask why bar officials don't spend some time policing them?
How can they be found?
They are everywhere, in every courtroom in the state. Anyone interested in finding them could not miss them as they crawl over each other, battling to devour everything in their paths.
But they are safe from the Bar Association, because they fight only over fees. You never hear one of them talking about peace or protecting the underdog. In short, they are what the Bar Association considers to be ideal members of the bar.
No wonder we all hate lawyers.