Rights of Spring

The pro-choice community in this state is in big trouble.

May 1, the Arizona affiliate of NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) will shut its doors. Bruce Miller, essentially NARAL's one-man show for the past four years, is headed to Minnesota to run that state's Common Cause chapter.

Further trouble: Ginger Yrun, the 18-year veteran executive director of Planned Parenthood's southern Arizona affiliate, resigned this month. She'll be replaced, but Miller will not.

All of this pretty much leaves Planned Parenthood of Central Arizona in the lead on pro-choice activism in Arizona, which has a lot of pro-choicers concerned. Last year, as you may recall, PPCA broke rank with Yrun's and Miller's groups by supporting an abortion clinic regulation bill that ultimately passed. Ever since, Planned Parenthood of Central Arizona has been viewed with skepticism by die-hard abortion rights advocates, who have increasingly looked to others, particularly Miller, for leadership and support. It's widely believed that PPCA is more concerned with raising funds than fighting for women's rights.

"The reproductive rights movement is hardly dependent on one or two individuals. I believe that with all my heart and soul," Yrun insists, but Miller admits that NARAL's absence could hurt. This year, pro-choice activists -- including, it should be added, lobbyists for PPCA -- defeated a so-called informed consent bill and another measure that would have restricted a court ward's access to abortion (a response to last summer's incident in which a 14-year-old ward was allowed a late-term abortion). A parental consent bill -- originally expected to sail through the Legislature -- barely passed, and only with intense pressure from House Speaker Jeff Groscost.

"I think Planned Parenthood of Central Arizona -- with my leaving and Ginger's leaving -- has to step up and try to build new coalitions and bring other organizations to the table," Miller tells me. "The burden is on their shoulders now. What will happen? I don't know. I'm concerned . . . that they need to understand what their responsibility is now in terms of picking up all of the marbles and jacks that have to be taken care of. I hope they can do it. I don't know if they can."

He adds, "I do think it was important that legislators understood that there was an independent perspective out there that was not strictly related to Planned Parenthood and someone who did not speak from a clinic perspective or a business perspective, but who really spoke from a legal and philosophical base of what choice is all about."

Tucson Representative Herschella Horton, a pro-choice Democrat, is concerned.

"Bruce has been the main voice [in the pro-choice movement in Arizona], and if they're closing their office, I don't know what that means . . . . I don't know who there will be who will step up."

Me either.

Nyah, nyah, nyah to the First Amendment

When journalists sue journalists, things can get messy. Particularly when lawyers get involved. And particularly when one of the lawyers can't decide whether he supports the First Amendment -- in the middle of the courtroom.

Some history. A group of laid-off Phoenix Newspapers Inc. reporters is suing PNI and then-managing editor Steve Knickmeyer over statements Knickmeyer made about them to the Columbia Journalism Review. The reporters were let go a few years back when PNI merged The Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette.

Doug Underwood, a Seattle journalist who authored the CJR piece in question, quoted Knickmeyer as saying the laid-off reporters were "fat, lazy, incompetent and slow."

The laid-off reporters sued Knickmeyer and PNI. (Underwood and CJR are not named in the suit.)

Knickmeyer admits making the remark, but claims he was speaking about reporters who leaked information to New Times -- not about the laid-off reporters.

Arguing that the only way to resolve the issue is to force Underwood to make his notes of the conversation public, the plaintiffs subpoenaed all of Underwood's files used to prepare the story. He refused to release them, and the matter went before the King County Superior Court in Seattle on March 22.

Now, journalists generally put up a united front against any invasion into the story-making process. So you have a bizarre story here: reporters demanding another reporter's notes.

But this tale gets more bizarre. Enter David Bodney, who traveled to Seattle to represent PNI. Throughout this case, Bodney has argued vehemently alongside Underwood's attorney, Bruce Johnson, that Underwood's notes are private. Johnson agreed to serve as PNI's Washington counsel for last month's hearing; as an Arizona lawyer, Bodney couldn't appear in court without a Washington representative. The two sat together.

Judge Susan Armstrong heard both sides, then announced that while she generally believed that the notes should remain private, she would allow for one small portion -- the notes detailing Underwood's conversation with Knickmeyer -- to be made public.

This would have been a rather routine, mundane hearing, were it not for Bodney's performance following Armstrong's preliminary ruling. King County videotapes its proceedings, and for a nominal fee you can buy the tapes. So I did, and I laughed out loud. Sure, Bodney rose initially to protest the plaintiffs' demand for Underwood's notes. But as soon as Armstrong said she was inclined to release the Knickmeyer conversation, Bodney popped up out of his seat and began arguing, essentially, for the other side:

"Obviously, as a matter of First Amendment privilege, it's our view that these materials in total are protected. But if it is the court's belief that the privilege does not exist to protect some of these materials, such as the Knickmeyer interview, it would be our position that our hands are then tied," he said. ". . . If the jury gets to look at the notes as to Steve Knickmeyer, it seems to me they're going to have questions about the notes of conversations with [laid-off reporter Kim Sue Lia] Perkes, who made some very nasty accusations about the Arizona Republic. So it seems to me that if the privilege doesn't protect one, it doesn't protect the other."

In other words, "Nyah, nyah, nyah." So much for Doug Underwood's rights. Johnson looked annoyed, plaintiff's attorney Amy Gittler (and former Bodney law partner) looked amused, and the judge looked befuddled.

"I'm invading the privilege only as far as I think it needs to be invaded," Armstrong said. And when Bodney raised the issue again, her reply was, "Frankly, I don't know what standing you have to enforce their subpoena . . . . You may need to pursue some of this information yourself."

Will he? Who knows? Bodney tells me he is misunderstood -- that he and his client will never want any of those notes, that he simply wanted to prevent Gittler from getting hold of any more of them. But Gittler and Johnson each say they heard Bodney the same way Judge Armstrong and I did. Two days after the hearing, PNI's attorney was back to championing the First Amendment, in the pages of none other than the Arizona Republic, which reported an edited version of the hearing's proceedings and included this harrumph from Bodney:

"We think it ironic and sad that reporters would sue an editor and a newspaper for defamation, and for them to take the further step to compel a non-party reporter to produce his unpublished notes for their unfettered review shows insensitivity to journalists' rights."

How ironic and sad.

Contact Amy Silverman at 602-229-8443 or at her online address: [email protected]