Requiem for a Rogue

Descriptions that weren't heard at a memorial service for Phoenix attorney Mike Scott last Saturday morning: Elegant. Subtle. Wimpy. Pompous. Mellow. Slick.

Those who paid their respects at Phoenix's St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church ran the gamut. Cowpokes wearing blue jeans and garish belt buckles mingled with barristers in Brooks Brothers suits. Scott's onetime rugby teammates chatted easily with judges. Several blond women sat here and there in the North Central Avenue church, weeping silently by themselves.

The mix was a tribute to the eclectic Scott, who died March 4 of complications from hepatitis. He was an ace trial attorney as adept in prosecuting criminals as he became in defending the wrongly accused (he moved in 1980 from the United States Attorney's Office to private practice).

A few years ago, several people--attorneys, a private investigator, courtroom clerks, a clinical psychologist, a journalist--were musing over a cold one at the downtown Phoenix watering hole known as Jackson Hole. Who, someone asked, would you hire if, God forbid, you found yourself facing a criminal indictment?

One consensus pick was Mike Scott. Everyone agreed he would fight like a junkyard dog.

But Scott's legacy rests not just in the famous people he defended (impeached governor Evan Mecham and Mecham's brother Willard, and former U.S. attorney general Richard Kleindienst come to mind--all were acquitted of criminal charges), or in those scoundrels whose convictions he won (armored-car robbers and murderers Michael and Patrick Poland, and land-fraud kingpin Ned Warren Sr., among many).

Phoenix attorney Tom Crowe spoke with passion about his longtime law partner and friend.

"He wasn't the type of person you'd meet, then see again and say, 'Have we met before?'" Crowe said, to appreciative laughter. "He was a rogue, a strong man with a heart of gold. . . . He violated several rules--not the ethical rules that lawyers have--but other kinds of rules. One was that you do not want to become too close, too attached to your clients. . . . That went against his very grain.

"He was not a phony. As an attorney, Mike had a classic combination in his grasp and approach to the law--he had been around real people and he didn't talk in lawyer gibberish. [But] when he was in a judge's chambers, he would drop the double negatives, change the cadence."

Crowe concluded by speaking of the Mike Scott who would listen to the country tune "Tennessee Stud" and break down into tears.

"That was Mike," Crowe said. "That was my friend."
Another dear friend of Scott's, Arizona Court of Appeals Judge E.G. "Ted" Noyes, told the gathering:

"Mike was a dynamo who bored into our lives. If he didn't like you, he'd tell you to bleep off. I'm glad to say that he liked me. Mike tore through life like he was a bull rider [which he was]--it's not if you're gonna get hurt, it's when and how bad."

The judge described Scott as "a man's man and a lady's man. He was wild. He would keep jumping into you for so long you got kind of tired of saying no. And then he would smile at you."

It was no secret that Scott liked to drink, far too much. Noyes recalled how another driver had narrowly missed Scott's car a few years ago:

"He said how he'd been driving to his office after working out and this guy had almost smashed into him. He told me, 'Wouldn't that have been something? Getting killed coming to work right from a workout? And stone-cold sober.'"

Noyes' enduring image of his pal was a poignant one: "No one had fire in the belly like Mike Scott. After the Ned Warren conviction in Seattle--a high-pressure extortion case--Mike came off the plane in this long, black leather coat, a bounce in his stride and a big grin. Like the heavyweight champion of the world. And now he's gone . . ."

After the service, old friends and strangers shared their favorite Mike Scott stories in the warmth of the early afternoon sun.

A local prosecutor told of a party many years ago at his home. It was getting late, and only the diehards remained. The prosecutor had a keg of beer on his back porch. He stepped from his house for some air, and saw Scott pumping a fresh beer into a cup with one hand. With the other hand, he was relieving himself off the porch.

The prosecutor asked his friend what in the world he was doing.
"I'm on a tight time schedule," Scott explained.
That he was. Mike Scott was 51.