Legal Briefs

Unexpected Discovery and Disclosure in the Stidham Murder


Lourdes Lopez, the central witness in the murder case against her former fiancé, Dr. Bradley Schwartz, is in for a bumpy ride.

Busted in a Sept. 25, 2002, federal indictment on charges she took fake prescriptions from Schwartz to help him stoke his drug addiction, Lopez was forced to leave her three-year job as a prosecutor in the Pima County Attorney's Office. Lopez failed to come forward to alert authorities or warn Dr. David Brian Stidham of what she has since repeatedly said were Schwartz's constant threats to have Stidham killed. Stidham's widow this week filed suit against Lopez, as well as the county and members of the County Attorney's Office. Prosecutors want to use her statements, but Brick Storts, Schwartz's lawyer, says Lopez cannot claim that what Schwartz told her was outside another well-established part of their relationship--that of attorney-client.

Storts, in a July 26 motion that aimed to shut Lopez up, said Schwartz "believed that, when he spoke to Ms. Lopez, he was talking to Ms. Lopez in her capacity as an attorney and asking for and receiving legal advice. ... That this advice may have been inappropriate and, perhaps, criminal in nature, does not change the fact that Dr. Schwartz believed that his conversations were protected by the attorney-client privilege."

Judge Nanette Warner ruled Aug. 8 that Lopez can testify in a trial, now tentatively set for late February. Here's some of what Lopez told Det. Jill Murphy on Oct. 8, three days after Stidham was killed, when Murphy was asking Lopez about Schwartz's threats before the murder:

Murphy: Has he ever said, you had mentioned that he said he had more than one person do this?

Lopez: Yeah, guys.

Murphy: Just?

Lopez: Huachos (a slang term for Mexicans here illegally). People that didn't have any reason to give a shit. You know, people that didn't, didn't care, you know.

Murphy: Mm hm, yeah.

Lopez: And I used to tell him, those are the worst kinds of people. "If you're gonna have a drug addict do it, a drug addict (is) gonna want more money later."

Murphy: Mm hm.

Lopez: What are you talking, I mean, can you imagine that I had conversations like that with him? I'm, I'm sitting here and I'm thinking, "What the hell was that all about?" It was my way of dismissing it, "Like don't be stupid. You can't do that."

Storts wrote that Lopez "apparently had numerous conversations with Dr. Schwartz about evidence, how the police investigated criminal cases, who he should not hire to accomplish the murder of Dr. Stidham and the consequences of hiring different sorts of people. Ms. Lopez was able to answer at least some of these questions based on her experience as an attorney and a prosecutor."

Storts also asked Judge Warner to knock down the wall David Berkman, chief of the county attorney's criminal division, erected to block release of Lopez's personnel file. County Attorney Barbara LaWall allowed Lopez to resign pending the federal indictment. Warner on Aug. 8 said she would examine the file in chambers.

Testimony before the county Civil Service Commission last spring exposed at least some of its contents.

On April 13, Lopez answered former colleague Brad Roach's questions about her departure from the county job.

Lopez: I was summoned to speak with Ms. LaWall and I believe Mr. (Rick) Unklesbay (the office's top prosecutor) was present for that conversation. I had a conversation with Ms. LaWall and Mr. Unklesbay. During the course of that conversation I realized I needed to resign.

Roach: Did they make it known to you that if you did not resign that you would be fired from the office?

Lopez: Yes.

Roach: Could you describe to the best of your recollection, Barbara LaWall's and Rick Unklesbay's emotional state during that interview and discussion which you had with them?

Lopez: As I recall, Mr. Unklesbay appeared very solemn. Ms. LaWall was also solemn and it was a very difficult conversation that I had with them.

Roach: Would you describe either one of them as appearing to be sad?

Lopez: I wouldn't say sad.

Roach: In addition to having the discussion about you leaving the office, did Barbara LaWall ever say anything to you just on a personal level about what she thought you should do in your relationship with Bradley Schwartz?

Lopez: Yes, Ms. LaWall indicated that I needed to stay as far away as I could from this individual.

Roach: And is it fair to say that the reason you were given the option to resign or be fired was because of your association with Brad Schwartz and what appeared to be an upcoming federal indictment with him?

Lopez: Yes.

Later, Unklesbay testified that he was friendly with Lopez, saw her at a Friday happy hour and spoke to her after her troubles with the feds began.

"My advice to her was get a lawyer," Unklesbay said. "I didn't want her to make an admission to me."