Trial By Media (Part I)

For month after month, Phoenix news reporters repeated a disgruntled secretary's half-baked charges, helping County Attorney Richard Romley discredit a rival in the Attorney General's Office. The same media horde made scarcely a whimper when Romley cover

Last week, she repeated this new, third version of the kidnap rescue.
Vasquez now claims that she did not act on her own, but sought direction from the top. Vasquez said she asked the advice of the head of the attorney general's criminal division, Michael Cudahy, and he gave her the direction to proceed on May 16.

Cudahy, on the record, denied any such meeting ever occurred, let alone that he had advised such a reckless course of action.

Vasquez will tell you that all the attorney general was actually concerned about was milking the kidnaping for publicity.

MacDonald, who talked to both Carey and Woods when they first learned about the abduction, says just the opposite is true.

"The last thing they wanted was publicity," says MacDonald. "That couple was armed and considered dangerous. What if a cop had been shot? What if the child had been injured? Here was the attorney general with a secretary conducting an investigation.

"Woods and Carey weren't angry, they were incredulous."

Though it pulled on one's heartstrings, the Anna Ott kidnaping was merely the 'Oh my God' background thread from which the other charges in Flatten's first story unspooled.

There were two substantive allegations in Flatten's article that would haunt the ensuing news coverage for months.

The first charge: Rob Carey obstructed a Department of Justice investigation by brazenly withholding, according to Flatten, a "secret cache of files" from an FBI investigation of Grant Woods' father.

The records supposedly involved Joe Woods, a local builder, and Good Samaritan Hospital. The files were stored in a locked filing cabinet of Carey's and discovered by Vasquez.

The second charge was that scholarship funds had been diverted from the Martin Luther King Jr. luncheon to pay for the attorney general's besotted retreat.

Both accusations were wide of the mark.
The first charge was made public after Vasquez told the County Attorney's Office she had discovered a key to Carey's personal filing cabinet when the prosecutor was out of the office. Opening those files, she found folders marked "Joe Woods."

To avoid the appearance of snooping, Vasquez explained that she'd only intended to make sure that the files in that particular cabinet were properly ordered.

This explanation shocked her co-workers.
Reached in Chicago, Michelle DeCosta had vivid memories of what she found when she replaced Vasquez.

"The most basic files weren't there, internal memos, court orders. Nothing. It was all just stuffed inside credenzas and boxes," recalls DeCosta. "From May until September, 90 percent of my time was devoted to creating files out of that mess."

Vasquez stuck with her explanation that she only wanted to create order when she opened Carey's files.

When Vasquez unlocked her boss's personal filing cabinet and saw the label "Joe Woods" on folders, by her own admission, she instantly slammed the drawer shut without looking inside them. Vasquez said she did not examine the folders because she was afraid Carey might return and see what she was doing.

Although she never learned the contents of the files labeled "Joe Woods," Vasquez nonetheless told the County Attorney's Office that there had been a conspiracy to withhold those records from the Department of Justice.

In fact, the folders in Carey's personal filing cabinet stemmed from a civil-court case in which Carey represented Grant Woods' father when Carey was still in private practice. The case was resolved before Grant Woods took public office.

The files had nothing whatsoever to do with the FBI probe, an investigation that, in any case, found no wrongdoing by Woods or his father.

You might think that Vasquez's own admission in her statement to Romley--that she had not seen the contents of the Joe Woods files--would have given pause to a journalist. It did not.

Flatten explained that, substantiated or not, if it was in her statement, it was newsworthy.

Flatten's story went on at great length about the mysterious files and then allowed Carey a one-sentence denial of impropriety.

The second charge of consequence in Flatten's article--that minority scholarship monies were diverted for boozy parties--was no less alarming and just as misleading as the "secret cache of files" allegation.

The funds in question underwrote the costs of an annual luncheon in Tucson that Woods first organized when the state of Arizona refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. with a holiday.

The Attorney General's Office urged business leaders to fund a meal at which minority students would sit down with lawyers, listen toa guest speaker and honor the memory of Dr. King.

Carey maintains--and there are fund-raising letters as well as witnesses to support the contention--that the monies raised were earmarked for the attorney general's trust fund, which included, but was not limited to, supporting the MLK luncheon.

Others disagree, claiming donations should have been limited to the civil rights affair.

Judge Cecil Patterson, a former assistant at the Attorney General's Office and the driving force behind the luncheon, always believed the King funds should have been inviolate.

"Carey and I disagreed about how those funds should have been treated," says Patterson.

But Patterson worked for Carey, who had set up the Event Fund which held the King money and numerous other sources of fund raising.

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