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OUR LAWYERS OF LOURDES

The Board of Supervisors fumbled when it punted a decision on July 5 to issue contracts to a few defense lawyers seeking part of the $13.5 million in lawyer pork Pima County will dish out this year. Only Republican Ray Carroll was clear. He wanted to nix the $140,000 in contracts slotted for Lourdes Lopez, the disgraced former deputy county prosecutor who failed to notify police that her ex-fiancé Dr. Bradley Schwartz ranted about having his former employee, Dr. David Brian Stidham, killed. Lopez spoke to police three days after the Oct. 5 murder and only when pressured by her friend Paul Skitzki, whose career as a rising star in the County Attorney's Office was shattered by his association with Lopez.

Lopez was forced out of her county prosecutor's job in August 2002, a month before the feds finished their case against her, Schwartz and his former medical office staffer Laurie Espinoza. All three were indicted in a bogus prescription scheme Schwartz engineered to satisfy his extreme jones for painkillers. The county ignored its "bad-boy" ordinance, which bars contractors who have been busted or who are in trouble with regulatory agencies, when it handed Lopez $255,000 in contracts from February 2004 through June 30 of this year.

Jilted, cheated on and smacked around by Schwartz, L.Lo now is singing as the star witness against him.

A few minutes before supervisors were to vote, Carroll was outside talking to a fat hack of The Skinny. she came clicking up in her high heels and too-short skirt. Doe-eyed and in a Method-level performance, Lopez told Carroll that she'd never been to a supervisors' meeting and wanted to chat with him to follow up an e-mail she sent him in response to his published comments critical of her county contracts (first disclosed in the Weekly in "Defense Contract," May 5, 2005). Sugar-Ray didn't bite. He told Lopez that he was in a meeting and instructed her to take a seat in the hearing room.

She didn't need him.

Democrat Richard Elias rode to her rescue, saying Carroll's motion to withhold new contracts for Lopez to represent a variety of broke defendants "smacked of certain kind of reproach."

Well, yeah. Duh.

Ramon Valadez, a Democrat who has become Señor Segundo for Elias motions, quickly supported the move to stall Carroll. Sharon Bronson, the Democratic chair, slowly agreed with Carroll on Lopez, but joined Elias and Valadez to refer contracts for Lopez and five others to the county's Justice Coordinating Council, made up of the elected and appointed players in the county's justice system. Republican Supervisor Ann Day was absent on July 5, probably for the better. When the issue arose in June, she couldn't distinguish Skitzki, now a county public defender, from Brad Roach, a former prosecutor whose career also was sidetracked chiefly by his friendship and allegiance to Lopez.

The trouble was that Skitzki's name appeared on the contract list, even though by June he was no longer seeking to be in private practice with a pack of county contracts. Nor was Nicki DiCampli, yet another Lopez pal who got also got into hot water as a deputy prosecutor because of the Lopez connection to the Stidham case.

Sending the list of these lawyers to the county Justice Coordinating Council was a mistake. It gives County Attorney Barbara LaWall undue influence on selection of defense attorneys. She fired Skitzki, saying he didn't act appropriately with information about Schwartz after Stidham was killed. Lopez claims she told Skitzki about Schwartz's plans to have Stidham killed--before the murder. Stidham steadfastly denies Lopez told him anything of the sort before the murder.

Skitzki appealed LaWall's decision, but lost before the county Merit Commission. Roach and DiCampli, however, whipped LaWall, who had given them three-week suspensions. Both were awarded full back pay and the discipline was reduced to hand-slap letters. LaWall has no business interfering when it comes to Roach. He is a talented, smart, energetic young lawyer who deserves the contracts.

There is another problem with Elias's move to send this to the Justice Council. John S. Leonardo, presiding judge of Superior Court, is the father of Nathan Leonardo, Roach's partner and a lawyer with county contracts. Judge Leonardo, who is even-handed and respected, has since announced he has a conflict of interest when it comes to appointing either his son or Roach to any cases. Judges makes those appointments from the list built by the county Office of Court Appointed Counsel. Leonardo also should stay out of any discussion about Lopez. He was her boss in the summer of 1996, when she served as a law clerk.

Janet Altschuler, a former prosecutor who also was disciplined in the Stidham-Schwartz-Lopez matter, is on the question list. If she can keep from crying, she should get county contracts.

Two others are on the list not because of Lopez or the Stidham case but because they planned retirement from the county contingent upon landing county contracts. Tacky.

Supes are to revisit the matter on Sept. 13.


A BANNER YEAR

With all we've seen from the Stidham case, a banner on a street-light pole outside the UA College of Law is startling. "Integrity," it reads. "A goal," we add.


SLIM TO NONE

Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis pulled the plug on plans to bottle its Boost nutritional drink at the sparkling plant at 8755 S. Rita Road that Slim-Fast abandoned despite getting a basket full of tax incentives from sugar-daddy City Hall.

Republican Mayor Bob Walkup and his City Council clique approved a secret plan cooked up by unaccountable bureaucrats to hand super-rich Novartis $3.5 million in wholly unnecessary property tax gifts. Novartis said it would employ 117 or so and promised average wages that were too good to believe. The plant would have sucked up more than one million gallons of drinking water every three days.

Since July 8, when the giddy Walkup got a 6-1 vote to approve the incentive, the deal slid seriously sideways. Democrat Jose Ibarra cast the dissent, but he had his typical zero influence. Councilman Steve Leal, a four-term Democrat, offered the toughest criticism. Shirley Scott, a Democrat who represents the southeast side, where Slim-Fast built its ghost, peeled off. Even Republican Kathleen Dunbar was dubious.

The city's concealed effort, championed by Assistant City Manager Karen Thoreson and economic development boss Kendall Bert, was really a real estate deal. The Growth Lobby wanted the Slim-Fast plant occupied to justify the rampant southeast side sprawl.

City and economic development clowns still are trying to say more would have been gained and that Slim-Fast paid big taxes. Hardly. Property taxes paid in 2004? ZERO, down 100 percent from $291,826 in 2003. Slim-Fast's parent spun off the building to the city in December 2003. The city gave it back to Slim-Fast's parent in December 2004, county records show. That dilatory transfer helped Slim-Fast evade property taxes for the 2004 tax year. The same property shell game would have been in place for Novartis.

Meanwhile, Joe Snell, the baby-faced director of the Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc. and the guy who will lead the next effort to fill Slim-Fast, got another blowjob from the Arizona Daily Star for stating the obvious on Aug. 19. The cheerleading Star began with "Joseph Snell has only spent 19 days at the helm of (TREO) but has already identified three important needs (updates of demographics, education, labor force, etc.)."

What exactly is impressive about Snell doing his job? He could and should have done that on the first day of his $150,000-a-year, government-supported job.

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