You may remember Barnett Lotstein from the Ev Mecham saga. He was the cocky little guy from the Attorney General's Office who failed to convince a jury in 1988 that the quirky ex-governor was guilty of anything more than stupidity.
As boss of the attorney general's major fraud section, the brassy Lotstein long had been considered one of Attorney General Bob Corbin's heavy hitters. That doesn't count for much with new Attorney General Grant Woods. He's been swinging an ax since his first day on the job. But Lotstein has survived. Sort of.
The onetime prosecutor of big-time white-collar rip-off artists is now a state's attorney for driver's license revocation appeals. The fall from the attorney general's penthouse to the transportation section is akin to a newspaper's top columnist being banished to the obituary desk.
There's no question, sources at the Attorney General's Office say, that the 49-year-old Lotstein would have been swept out onto West Washington Street with the fifty or so others canned by Woods since January 7. But Woods is stuck with Lotstein, at least for a while. He can't fire Lotstein without just cause, because Lotstein still works under a merit system in effect when then-attorney general Bruce Babbitt hired him in 1976.
Lotstein isn't bemoaning his fall from grace. Indeed, he takes pains neither to praise nor condemn his new boss Woods. One big reason, of course, is money. He's making as much--$82,788 a year--as a watchdog of suspended and revoked driver's licenses as he did when supervising one of the attorney general's most high-profile sections.
When asked to describe his current frame of mind, Lotstein refuses to display a bruised ego. "I come in every day and try to represent the people of the state to the best of my ability," he says. "I'm handling cases assigned to me now, not the other way around, so obviously it's different. But I'm putting in a full day, believe me." Remember, this is a career prosecutor who in 1987 won a conviction against national pyramid-scheme king Glenn Turner; it was the first of Turner's felony convictions. Lotstein was hot, his name on the national newswire. No longer. Lotstein won't say how long he plans to stay around. And he says no one from the Woods camp has told him why he was demoted. (Woods won't talk about specific "personnel matters.")
Lotstein recalls having had one conversation ever with Woods, a brief chat last year after an Arizona State University basketball game. "I wished him good luck in the campaign and we spoke for a few minutes," Lotstein says. "That was it."
He insists he wasn't ready for what's happened to him.
"It was a surprise," he says of his transfer to KP duty.
It shouldn't have been. Woods actively courted the Corbin-hating Mechamites during his tough primary run against Corbin protege Steve Twist. Lotstein's co-prosecutor Mike Cudahy has been promoted to a slot as the chief of Woods' criminal division. But Lotstein was the oft-quoted leader of Corbin's ill-fated criminal case against the ex-governor. To many Mechamites, Lotstein was a key "conspirator" against their courageous leader.
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Some speculated during Woods' battle with Democrat Georgia Staton that she would appoint Lotstein as her top aide if elected. Woods, of course, beat Staton, but Lotstein says he had no pact with her. "I didn't support anyone in the election, I didn't contribute any money, and I had no expectation at all of being Georgia Staton's guy," Lotstein says.
Lotstein's reputation as an attorney seems an afterthought in the discussion of his demotion. Several local lawyers who have faced him say he is an able trial attorney but one who often overestimates his own abilities and the strength of his cases. One defense attorney calls Lotstein "professional and prepared, but smug, very smug," adding, "It will be interesting to see how smug he is after his 300th driver's license appeal."
Reluctant to rock his new boat, Lotstein concludes his public self-evaluation like this: "The lawyers in transportation are fine lawyers, and you'd be surprised at the amount of paperwork that comes out of these cases. I'm just here to do a job, whatever that job may be."-
"I'm putting in a full day, believe me.