2,700 Lawyers Can Be Wrong

Russell Pearce

By Sarah Fenske

We posted previously about State Representative Russell Pearce’s plan to exempt “public officers” from the oversight of the State Bar of Arizona – a pretty appalling idea on its face (See our previous post .)

Now here’s a startling new fact.

If Pearce’s plan goes through, several thousand lawyers would be free of punishment for any potential misbehavior. That’s because Pearce’s strike-through amendment on Senate Bill 1192 doesn’t only let guys like County Attorney Andrew Thomas off the hook. It would also stop the Bar from investigating or disciplining any public officer or “employee of a public agency.” That’s an estimated 2,700 attorneys.

The State Bar is opposing the plan. As they point out, holding a government job should not become a virtual Get Out of Jail Free card for lawyers.

“Why should Arizona’s public officials be held to a lesser standard and shielded from the rightful consequences of failure to uphold their duty as attorneys?” The Bar asks in a prepared statement.

Good question, guys!

“In fact,” the Bar continues, “over the past several years, the State Bar has investigated several significant discipline cases involving lawyers who were public employees. One was disbarred for the conduct, and another received a significant suspension. Under the proposal, both would have been exempt from disciplinary action.”

Now, we don’t want to say that this is all about New Times. But the Bar is, in fact, investigating the conduct of both Thomas and former special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik for their handling of our case last year. We can’t help but wonder about the timing.

But we still have to hope that even the dumbest legislator would realize how unbelievably stupid it is to let 2,700 lawyers off the hook just to save a few of Russell Pearce’s buddies.

Not that we're holding our breath or anything...

One last oddity: The language Pearce submitted yesterday suggests that the plan needs to go voters as a ballot proposition. But it turns out that isn’t quite so; it’s written like a ballot prop, but it uses the format of a regular bill.

We asked around, and no one down at the Legislature quite knows what’s going on. Since time is rapidly running out for this session, it may be that Pearce just got sloppy.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske