GEORGIA STATON | News | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona



In this atmosphere of tense campaigning, where Georgia Staton, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, has been publicly scorned as a "junkyard dog" by a prominent attorney and has been deserted right and left by members of her own party, it is probably only fair to point out that she...
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In this atmosphere of tense campaigning, where Georgia Staton, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, has been publicly scorned as a "junkyard dog" by a prominent attorney and has been deserted right and left by members of her own party, it is probably only fair to point out that she has a friend from college who has loved her dearly for twenty years.

"Georgia's a lot of fun. She really MDBOMDULis," says Donna Schafer, an assistant professor of gerontology at San Francisco State University who roomed with Staton at the University of Kansas. Schafer is a woman who laughs a lot, and she laughs at her own remark, too, as though she knows it's difficult to believe this about the noticeably no-nonsense Staton.

"And she is a real honest kind of person. And she is a good friend, very trustworthy. She is one of several people with whom I have stayed in contact."

Schafer's impressions of Statonalong with those by family members and campaign workers who refer to her with words like "intelligent" and "thoughtful"are not consistent with those of some local defense attorneys. Many of the latter are scared to death of the womanor, more specifically, of what they believe is her rigidity and abrasiveness when it comes to enforcing the law.

And there is good reason to believe that, even if she is capable of loyalty and warmth in private, she is indeed rigid and abrasive in the professional world. You hear it again and again from attorneys who have dealt with her, and even Bill Jones, a professed admirer and senior partner in Jones, Skelton, and Hochuli, the law firm where Staton has worked as an associate for six years, admits that there are very starchy aspects to Staton's personality. He says, "Where Georgia is concerned, there is always a right way [to do things]. If she has a fault, it is that Georgia's way is the `right' way, frequently.

"I wish she could be more bending, less demanding of people around her.
"I am not so sure she is not a frustrated cop." Her younger sister Josephine Tucker, a California lawyer, says Staton's feelings about law enforcement are such strong ones that they stand somewhat apart from the rest of her beliefs. To draw a comparison, she says that Georgia is a strict Catholic who would probably never opt for an abortion for herself, but that she is a pro-choice MD120 Col 1, Depth P54.02 I9.03 candidate "because she would not enforce that belief on others." "But there are other issues in terms of law and order where she has a very strong sense of right and wrong," Tucker goes on. "And if enforcing the penal code in a strong sense is moralistic, then in that case she could be moralistic."

These clear-eyed supporters and others say without qualification, however, that Staton's integrity is beyond question. They are so adamant about this point that it makes the Royden Brown case seem even more confusing.

That was the matter, publicized in MDUL New Times during Staton's race for Maricopa County attorney in 1988, where it was revealed that local litigator Ed Novak believes Staton lied on the stand during the course of a colossal, convoluted land fraud case that she prosecuted out of the Attorney General's Office. If Novak's interpretations of past events are true, Staton's zeal to send Royden Brown to jail overcame her ethics. Staton countered at the time that if Novak had truly believed she'd lied, he would have filed a bar complaint. (MDULNew Times has recently learned that a bar complaint in the matter of Royden Brown has been filed against Staton by Ed Novak. Asked to comment about the complaint, Staton points out that Novak waited until after she had announced her candidacy for attorney general before filing ittwo years after the story first appeared in the press and seven years after the Brown case was settled. She says that Novak is involved in opponent Grant Woods' campaign, and that his action "is the biggest political smear that has even been orchestrated in statewide politics." She adds, "I want the people of the state to know the lengths to which the criminal defense bar will to to keep a strong, experienced prosecutor out of that office." Novak refused to discuss the bar complaint, saying that it violates attorneys' ethics. He said that he has lent his name to the Woods campaign.)

What these claims and counterclaims actually mean about Staton's character is hard to know, beyond the obvious conclusion that the impressions Staton leaves in her wake are strong and contradictory.

And the woman herself is hard to know, although not because she seems to be intent on hiding anything in particular as she ruminates about the personal values that, if elected, she would bring into office. It is more that she gives an impression of having been so intent on personal success, even as a Democrat during the values-challenging Sixties, that she did not consider the status of the larger world, and did not develop much personal depth. Seated in her sterile office, answering questions about her passions without ever raising or lowering her voice, she communicates that there may not be much there there.

She is the daughter of stable, middle-class Midwesternersa father who was a carpenter and a mother who taught dancing schoolwho apparently were champions at motivating their children. The primary thing that they taught her, she says, is that "there is no such thing as a free lunch." (Tucker adds that they also prodded their children to always do their best, and that "doing your best usually means doing better than somebody else." She reckons that this constant message was very influential in shaping her sister's competitive nature.) She always knew that getting into college and staying there was a privilege she'd have to earn, and she applied to the University of Kansas in Lawrence because its Russian program was a good one and because it was a school she could afford.

Lawrence in 1967 was not a likely hangout for the uncommitted, and it still isn't: It's a college town where true liberals go to live and die. From '67 to '70, it was something even more spirited than that: It was a leading headquarters for unrest, campus and otherwise, in the Midwest.

It was a time when the state attorney general in Kansas declared that he was going to drive the hippies and their dreadful drug habits out of Lawrence. It was a time when the entire town was under curfew for a while and National Guard troops filled the streets. A time when a black youth was shot to death in town; when a white student was shot down near campus; when the student union was burned down; when, in the spring of '70, antiwar protests shut down the school in mid-semester.

Georgia Staton was pretty unaffected by all this. Although she generally opposed the Vietnam War, she didn't march or protest, in part because she was studying. "I was so straight, just like I am now," she remembers. "It's frightening, isn't it?"

But devotion to her education wasn't the only reason she remained politically uninvolved. "I found it very difficult to Col 1, Depth P54.02 I9.03 General's Office in Phoenixhave seemed designed not to make her a wealthy lawyer, but to qualify her to perform loftier tasks for her constituency. Says Schaferand the sentiment is echoed by nearly everyone who is asked to comment on Staton: "She has been very able to set goals. She has a real strong sense of where she wants to be."

Staton would tell you that this sense is so strong that she never needed to be part of any movement. In particular, she says specifically that she was never involved with feminist issues or consciousness raising during the Sixties and Seventies. "I never felt limited by being a woman," she says. "I thought my consciousness was just fine." She is very flatly insistent about it.

But her friends from that period remember that Staton was supportive of both women's and civil rights. And a law school professor recalls that when Staton was denied a recruiting interview by a Kansas law firm, she sent her application through again, having changed the first name on her resume to "George." When the interview was granted the second time, Staton took the matter directly to the law school dean. The law firm was not allowed to recruit on campus for a couple of years.

Is it possible that she disavows feminism now in order to distance her own campaign from "women's issues," and in order to make sure she doesn't soften the tough-prosecutor image that has been her primary message to the voters? Which brings up a broader question: Is there within this single-minded woman any unique sense of purpose or responsibility that might be traced to the generation that spawned her, and that might bode well or ill for Arizona? She says, "The responsibility of government stays the same: to make this state function as well as it can. I hope that the vigor with which we [younger politicians] pursue that goal is increased."

Although Staton seems to have passed through an era of intense American social conscience nearly unscathed, friend Schafer isn't sure it's that clean. She returns to the concern with civil and women's rights that she saw Staton display in college and says her friend is outraged when an opportunity is denied someone who deserves it. Perhaps that part of Staton, says Schafer, goes back to the formative Sixties.


"I was so straight, just like I am now," Staton remembers. "It's frightening, isn't it?"

"I am a very practical person," she says. "Marching around in a circle just means you have made a circle.

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