Trusting in Family Values

The day before he was scheduled to sit for the bar, Gaffney was assaulted by two mysterious strangers in a parking lot. They tried to rob the young attorney and shot himin the hand--the very hand he would use to complete the bar exam. Fortunately, it was just a flesh wound; though he was unable to take the bar, the injury was not permanent.

Tragically, no one saw the shooting, and the mysterious suspects disappeared.

Shortly thereafter, the partners of Streich Lang learned that Mr. Gaffney was not qualified to take the bar exam because he did not have a law-school diploma, a revelation that shocked the partners. Some even felt the young man had misrepresented himself.

Cynical lawyers contend that Gaffney shot himself to avoid taking the bar illegally.

I find that hard to believe.
I prefer to think that God sent armed robbers to shoot the young lawyer in the hand and spare him the embarrassment of taking the bar under false colors.

But even if Mr. Gaffney did shoot himself in the hand, is that necessarily a bad thing?

It shows a certain tenacity and ruthlessness that will serve Ann Symington as she tries to deflect the relentless Manning.

When you understand that Gaffney is trying to shelter Ann--and that there is good reason to do so--things make more sense.

For instance, Governor Symington has said he went Chapter 7 because he was unable to pay back the $10 million Mercado loan to the pension funds.

But Ann has something to do with the timing of the bankruptcy.
The unions had won a court judgment for $11.5 million. In an attempt to collect the award, Manning was about to question Ann Symington about her finances.

Before that happened, the governor sought protection in bankruptcy court and changed the ground rules.

By any law that you or I would recognize, Ann Symington ought to have declared bankruptcy, like her husband. She did, after all, personally guarantee the loan her husband defaulted on. You would think that both of them would have been subject to cross-examination by Manning.

But, as I said, the well-to-do benefit from the law as if their wealth were a force of nature. Ann was able to avoid public interrogation, legally, while Fife twisted in the wind created by Manning's questions.

If the bankruptcy ends with a settlement, Ann Symington might avoid Manning's questions altogether.

And if there is no settlement, when her time to face the music occurs, it will be in the relative privacy of a deposition, which will be conducted away from the prying eyes of the press and the public. At least for a time.

For now, her attorney is playing a sort of chess game with the rules of Chapter 7, protecting Ann from attack in every way possible.

Even with Ann sequestered, though, details of her big-dollar plays leaked out at the bankruptcy hearing during her husband's testimony.

Ann Symington will have plenty of money-moving to talk about if she ever does face Manning.

First, during the 1990 gubernatorial campaign, Ann and Martha Frick Symington, Fife's mother, lent $1.3 million to Fife. He then turned the funds over to the campaign. The loan was widely viewed as a heavy-handed attempt to circumvent campaign finance limits.

The governor told Manning that Ann subsequently bought Martha's share of the note, so that Fife owed all of the $1.3 million to his wife.

And, bless her heart, she forgave the entire debt. Now you owe me $1.3 million, now you don't.

So, instead of giving the ordinary legal limit of $500, Ann Symington got away with pumping more than $1 million into the campaign.

Then, in 1993, Ann intervened again. She paid Fife's Washington, D.C., lawyers more than $200,000.

A grateful Fife said he, in turn, passed to Ann $100,000 worth of antiques, jewelry and assorted robber-baron loot.

"I thought the least I could do," Fife told Manning, "was turn over some things I thought were of value and transfer them to her."

Now, if you or I did this, it would be looked upon as "fraudulent conveyance," an attempt to circumvent bankruptcy debt by hiding your ill-gotten gains.

People like Ann and Fife, however, believe that prenuptial agreements and "sole and separate property" loopholes shelter valuables from pensioners looking to be paid back.

Finally, in 1994, long after Fife had defaulted on the union loan, Ann lent Fife $50,000 for his reelection bid. At first, he paid her back with campaign funds. Fife testified that, after giving her the money, he changed his mind and took the cash back from Ann to send his kid to Phillip Exeter Academy, a school for little pootbutts who grow up to be trust-funders like Ann and Fife.

If you or I declare bankruptcy, one of the first things that happens, I guarantee, is that our kids end up in free public schools. We don't get to use campaign funds to send our children to Hotchkiss.

Despite their cavalier manipulation of wealth, Ann and Fife insist there is hardly a cent to repay the nail pounders, ditch diggers, truckdrivers and crane operators who lent them money.

Keep in mind that the creditors' hearing was only round one--a feeling-out round in what could be a long and revealing ordeal.

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