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Fife's Legal Defense Fund Isn't Flush
Money isn't exactly pouring into Governor J. Fife Symington III's legal defense fund, set up last winter to defray his staggering legal bills.

In a voluntary statement filed April 26 with the secretary of state, Gubernatorial Legal Defense Trust executive director Chuck Coughlin reported a whopping $1,663.36 in contributions from seven loyal Fifeophiles.

That's about enough to cover three hours of work and a plate of doughnuts for Symington's high-powered Washington, D.C., attorney John Dowd.

Things are slow, Coughlin explains, because "the first solicitation for funds was not made until March 15."

The largest contributor so far is G. Walton Roberson of Tucson; he kicked in $500 on March 12, three days before the first solicitation letter hit the streets.

Dowd is representing Symington in the ongoing federal grand jury investigation of his finances. The governor owed Dowd more than $600,000 last fall when he filed for bankruptcy.

Coughlin, a former Symington aide who now runs a consulting business, didn't mind talking to New Times for a change. "Go ahead and write another article, and we will probably get more money," Coughlin says.

Another Brick for Fife
For the second year in a row, the Fifester has won the Arizona Press Club's Brick Wall Award, which is presented annually to the public official who most brazenly flouts the state's Public Records Law.

Before making its choice, the Press Club's Public Records Committee filed public-records requests seeking--read very slowly now--to review all public-records requests made during 1995 to key agencies.

Douglas Cole, the governor's press aide, initially called the committee's request "frivolous," and said that complying could spoil the Fifester's chances of winning the award again. Lisa Hauser, a professional on the governor's staff, finally arranged for the records to be reviewed--50 days after the request was filed.

The review revealed a clear pattern of delay and obfuscation. In many cases, the Governor's Office made no response--not so much as a phone call or a letter of acknowledgment--until an attorney representing the reporter wrote a demand letter.

The governor also liberally applied "executive privilege" in sealing records that should be public.

Topping the list of "dishonorable mentions" was Attorney General Grant Woods, who shared the Brick Wall Award with Symington last year. Woods' mouthpiece, Karie Dozer, initially said she'd have no problem providing the records. Then, as she is wont to do, she refused to return calls seeking to set an appointment.

During 1995, Woods stymied reporters' efforts to obtain records of the AG's investigation into a corrupt municipal judge--an investigation that implicated current and former members of the AG's staff. One request filed in February was only partially complied with in December. Woods also has balked at releasing opinions he provides to state agencies--documents that were readily available under former attorneys general--and has done nothing to see that government agencies comply with the Public Records Law.

Other "dishonorable mentionees" were:
* Don Harris, public information officer for the state Department of Commerce. Harris, a former Arizona Republic reporter, once was considered the "dean of the Capitol press corps." In addition to displaying general hostility toward inquiring reporters, Harris helped orchestrate the Commerce Department's ill-fated stonewalling of requests for the list of people who received free Super Bowl tickets from the department.

* The Phoenix Police Department, which needlessly--and, some journalists claim, intentionally--delays release of public police reports.

For Once, Sheriff Joe Isn't All Wet
This week's chutzpah award goes to Crime Avenger Joe Arpaio, who had agreed to be doused in a dunk tank during the Press Club's annual awards bash.

But citing an earache, the sheriff put a subordinate, Lieutenant Rollie Seebert, in the dunk tank in his stead.

One gets the impression that if Sheriff Joe had been in High Noon, Grace Kelly would've wound up in the street, facing the bad guys.

Journalists showed their appreciation to Joe by purchasing all of FIVE pairs of the sheriff's pink underwear. The Flash admires Arpaio's pain threshold, however: He stayed for the entire three-hour awards program.

Feed The Flash: voice, 229-8486; fax, 340-8806; online, [email protected]

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