Phoenix Country Club Tells Rusty Brown to Get Lost. Who's Next?

by Sarah Fenske

The Phoenix Country Club continues to make headlines — this time for booting longtime member Rusty Brown. Brown's crime? Daring to speak to the media about the ongoing civil rights imbroglio at the club.

As we first reported last July, two longtime members filed a complaint with Attorney General Terry Goddard alleging that the club discriminates against women. (Female members are barred from the club's casual dining grill — and stuck using a women's grill with far fewer amenities.) That complaint touched off a series of disturbing clashes among the club's hoity-toity members that included alleged vandalism targeting the complainants, Logan and Barbara Van Sittert. And, at the time, the club passed a new rule threatening to expel any member who makes "derogatory or otherwise injurious comments to the media."

Frankly, it's kind of hard to see how Brown qualifies. A lawyer with a solo practice in Phoenix, Brown had questioned the sex-segregated grills at a luncheon hosted by the Arizona Women Lawyers Association. His only comment to the media, as best I can tell, was a quote in a New York Times story in June that ''most men are indifferent to the policy or are against it."

Hardly derogatory or "injurious" stuff. Frankly, Brown made it sound as if, rather than being dominated by a bunch of neanderthals, the club had a sympathetic silent majority. That's good public relations, right??

But what's really interesting is that Brown, so far, appears to be the only member expelled under the policy — even though Dennis Burke, who is also a club member, was quoted in the same New York Times piece as Brown calling the men's-only grill "indefensible."

Burke, of course, is chief of staff to Governor Janet Napolitano. And since the civil rights complaint against the club is currently being pursued by Napolitano's Democratic ally, Terry Goddard, I have to wonder if the club knew it couldn't risk taking on Burke.

Contacted at his law office, Brown said, "Out of respect for my former fellow members of the club, I am declining comment for now." Burke couldn't be reached by press time; I'll update this when and if we connect.

In the meantime, it will be curious to see if any club members resign their memberships in solidarity with Brown. The club's prominent members include super-lobbyist Kevin DeMenna, GOP political consultant Chuck Coughlin, former attorney general Grant Woods, and everybody's favorite disgraced ex-special prosecutor, Dennis Wilenchik.

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