"This is going to be fun," assistant Maricopa County attorney Jessica Funkhouser promises the bleary-eyed barristers. The occasion is a three-hour seminar titled "Ethics for Public Lawyers--The Higher Standard," part of the State Bar of Arizona's annual convention.

"The `Higher Standard'?" one local lawyer says as the 9 a.m. session gets under way. "Hmmm. They ought to have Richard Horwitz here as VIP." He is referring, somewhat bitterly, to the drug-abusing Phoenix attorney who reached out and touched two cops--fatally--last year with his fancy automobile, apparently while talking on his car telephone.

Those attending the recent morning get-together at the federal government's Phoenician resort include a former state Supreme Court justice, a gaggle of other jurists and more than 100 lawyers from all corners of Arizona.

Despite Funkhouser's opening line, these people are not here for "fun," or because they want to be refreshed about "ethics." The state Supreme Court has mandated that Arizona's attorneys are to complete two hours of instruction each year in ethics as part of their "continuing legal education."

"I'm here because I need to get my hours in by the end of June," one judge jokes quietly from near the back of the big hall. "They'll take my job or something. Why the hell are you here?"

"Well," New Times explains, "it's the very idea of lawyers talking about ethics. That's about the same as, say, journalists meeting to discuss fairness."

"Kind of a contradiction in terms, that the idea?" a Court of Appeals judge pipes up.

On the podium, a group of sticklers for lawyer discipline prattles on about hypothetical situations in which ethical questions would come into play. One of the imaginary situations involves a judge.

"I thought we were immune from the rules of ethics," a Maricopa County Superior Court judge whispers. He may be half-kidding.

"Judges are reformed lawyers," another judge says, chortling for all around him to hear.

The session is taking place at the Estrella Theatre, a handsome auditorium that seats a few hundred at the luxurious East Camelback resort. The setting--lawyer Charlie Keating's onetime Xanadu--is the subject of a barrage of whispered and scribbled wisecracks while the speakers drone on and on.

A presiding judge from a small Arizona county passes a note to a reporter. "Isn't this place ostentatious?" he writes. "A lot of `poor' upper-middle-class people's money went into building this place. At $85 per night (my rate), it'll probably take 2,000 years before they will begin to realize a profit. Ah, so goes big business."

He wants irony? A reporter points out to him in a return note that Keating's fiscal follies have made many, many lawyers very, very rich. "Think of the billable hours!" the note says.

Meanwhile, back at the podium, the State Bar's chief counsel, Harriet Turney, warns her audience to verse themselves in what the court calls its "ethical rules" or face the consequences.

"Keep that in mind," one attorney says sarcastically to another as Turney concludes her presentation. "You listen to her. That's `ethics.' MDRV~~~`E-t-h-i-c-s.' Got it?"--

"Kind of a contradiction in terms, that the idea?" a Court of Appeals judge pipes up.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin