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Unexpected Discovery and Disclosure in the Stidham Murder

THE BREACH

Philip Hall and Gerald Maltz, lead lawyers for Daphne Stidham and her two young children, say Pima County, County Attorney Barbara LaWall and two of her former prosecutors, Lourdes Lopez and Paul Skitzki, failed in their duties to protect the public, specifically to prevent the murder of Dr. David Brian Stidham on Oct. 5. After LaWall forced her to resign, Lopez was the lawyer for and fiancée of Dr. Bradley Schwartz, the man accused of hiring an alleged hit man, Ronald Bruce Bigger, to kill Stidham. Schwartz and Bigger say they are innocent and are in jail awaiting trials.

Hall and Maltz say that Lopez knew of Schwartz's repeated threats against Stidham. They repeat what she has since said, that she told Skitzki about Schwartz's threats. Skitzki steadfastly denies knowing about Schwartz's threats before the murder.

"Arizona lawyers owe a duty of reasonable care to non-clients where the person is subject to a foreseeable risk of harm if the attorney is negligent," Hall and Maltz state in the lawsuit the filed for Daphne, Alexandre and Catherine Stidham.

Lopez appeared at a civil service commission hearing in April. Chip Plowman, a lawyer for Skitzki, questioned her.

Plowman: I assume ... that you took Schwartz's threats seriously."

Lopez: That is true, sir.

Plowman: But you didn't know, and you only told friends, you didn't tell law enforcement yourself ahead of time?

Lopez: Before Dr. Stidham was found dead, no.

Det. Jill Murphy also testified at the Merit Commission. She was asked what, if anything, the sheriff's department could have done had it obtained the information before Stidham was killed.

Murphy: We would have tried to do different things. It could have been as little as contacting Dr. Schwartz and asking if this was true and pretty much letting him know that we knew, type of situation, or it could have an elaborate investigation focused on Dr. Schwartz to catch him in the act of maybe trying to find a hit man.

Skitzki, who lost his job when Lopez told Murphy that she had informed Skitzki of Schwartz's threats to have Stidham killed, has said it is devastating to be accused of withholding information that could have saved a life.

But that is just what was said at the Merit Commission by David Berkman, who serves LaWall as chief of the criminal division.

Berkman: My feeling is if Paul Skitzki had done what he was supposed to do, and this isn't easy to say, Dr. Stidham might be alive and his wife might not be a widow today.

Skitzki is now an assistant public defender. He has one more fight with LaWall: Skitzki is entitled to a government-paid lawyer for his defense in Daphne Stidham's civil suit. LaWall's office wants to choose who that lawyer will be.

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