The Usual Suspects

The Search For People To Blame Continues In Poorly Run, Politically Stinky TUSD.

By Chris Limberis

TUSD BOARD President Joel Tracy Ireland said under oath last week that the release of public information about multiple sexual harassment and discrimination complaints lodged against longtime TUSD administrator Ed Arriaga would force TUSD "to stop doing business as we do it now."

That's the point.

Ireland, a walking billboard for University of Arizona grade inflation (he's a graduate of the UA College of Law), was TUSD's only witness last Thursday in the costly lawsuit the district filed to keep The Arizona Daily Star and its TUSD reporter Sarah Tully Tapia from writing about Arriaga's actions in two cases that have cost taxpayers nearly $100,000 in settlements and legal fees.

Currents The TUSD ploy worked, at least temporarily. Sophomore Judge Kenneth Lee, of Pima County Superior Court, issued a temporary restraining order blocking the Star from writing about the complaints against Arriaga under the guise that the information--sent anonymously to the Star midsummer-- constituted privileged attorney-client information. Lee lifted part of his censor order that scared the Star out of running the story for 10 days.

Richardson, using cases that missed the point of the insidious nature of prior restraint, pressed on. But is appeal for TUSD was rejected after a 30 minute hearing Monday before a three-judge panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals in Tucson.

The Weekly received much of the same information, including attorney-client privilege material, last week and published it Thursday.

Phil Higdon, the polished media lawyer from Brown & Bain, read from The Weekly, which TUSD lawyers had delivered to the courtroom by a TUSD courier, even though copies were readily available downstairs.

Cocky and loquacious, Ireland played right into Higdon's hands. Ireland's appearance on the stand was curious because he'd maintained to the gullible daily media that TUSD Superintendent George Garcia alone made the decision to sue the Star and Tully Tapia.

Even TUSD's in-house counsel, Jane Butler, and John Richardson, an expensive mouthpiece from DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy, were nervous about Ireland. Both repeatedly shook their heads as Ireland testified. But their "don't go there" signals were ignored.

Ireland fell into Higdon's trap when he explained where such secret information is kept at TUSD: The legal department, board members and some top-level staff get copies. But, Ireland said, there are no written policies to protect the "secret" documents.

Gift in hand, Higdon told Judge Lee that TUSD had no security system.

"Instead of going through the trouble of instituting one, they want this court to do it for them," Higdon said.

Richardson's work was a further waste of taxpayer money. The cases he relied on were off the point, particularly Sixth Amendment conflicts where information is received that could jeopardize a defendant's right to a fair trial. And he really reached Monday when he said prior restraint in this case may be permissible because it has been allowed in obscenity cases.

Now Ireland's TUSD Board is scurrying to root out the culprit who sent the material to the Star. Ireland and his crew met behind closed doors the night of the Superior Court hearing and then voted in public session to ratify the wasteful route of litigation on Monday. Ireland took great pains to back TUSD off its initial implication that Tully Tapia (who appeared in the Court of Appeals as if she were dragged to church as she sat between Editor Steve Auslander and Managing Editor Bobbie Jo Buel) committed an illegal act to get the documents. Ireland now says Tully Tapia did nothing wrong, but that some "dishonest, dishonorable criminal" within TUSD stole the documents and sent them to her.

Ireland and TUSD Board Member Gloria Copeland also are busy running interference for Arriaga.

"I've known Arriaga as strictly an educator at two high schools, and at Sahuaro, and I have seen nothing to question about his professionalism and ability to bring a campus together," Copeland told Marisa Samuelson of the Tucson Citizen.

Copeland's son attends Sahuaro, where Arriaga serves as the school's $175-a-day interim principal.

Ireland and the TUSD Board promoted Arriaga, previously the principal at Rincon High School, to executive director of Human Resources after teacher Paula Morris accused him and two of his Rincon administrators of sexually harassing her and discriminating against her. She filed a lawsuit and in 1996 was awarded a $50,000 settlement.

In claims filed in 1996, TUSD's class and compensation manager Sue Carda complained Arriaga harassed her and created a hostile work environment. Carda was paid $12,900 plus given more than $3,000 in sick time. The district also paid her lawyer $2,000.

A 30-YEAR-EMPLOYEE of TUSD, Arriaga, known by many as "Fast Eddie," retired last year after serving as executive director of Human Resources. When he cashed out, Arriaga raked in nearly $90,000 in sick time.

That payout is missing from the income Arriaga and his wife listed on the bankruptcy papers they filed Sept. 1.

The politically connected Arriaga, a fixture in the Democratic campaigns of former U.S. Senator and former Pima County Attorney Dennis DeConcini, was almost immediately brought out of retirement, first to serve as interim principal at Santa Rita High School and then at Sahuaro.

Arriaga, who has consistently denied any wrongdoing, has gone on the offensive. He's threatening to sue TUSD and the media. Although he refused to talk to The Weekly, he presented his denials to Terry Gonzalez of KGUN-TV. He also pointedly told Sahuaro parents in a letter that forces were trying to hurt him. It was a theme he used during a meeting last week with Sahuaro staff, but some faculty members took his comments as a threat that they must not talk about him.

And he pulled out the preposterous, offensive, cliché that his "demonstrative" behavior is "part of my culture."

Sahuaro parents, who've been unhappy at the TUSD Board's game-playing in delaying selection of a permanent principal, have a new worry. The Star's Tully Tapia reported that female students at Tucson High, where Arriaga was principal from 1983-1990, and at Rincon also have complained about his behavior.

Finally, Ireland is focusing on a who-dunnit. He wants an investigation to discover the TUSD leak.

Round up the usual suspects. TW

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