Contract Dispute

It's a slow go for L. Lo's county criminal-defense contracts

Lourdes Lopez, the Tucson lawyer who did nothing to alert authorities to the threats her fiancé, Dr. Brad Schwartz, made about having his former associate killed, remains in the running for $140,000 in Pima County contracts to represent broke criminal defendants.

At a meeting on July 5, Supervisor Richard Elias, a Democrat, blocked efforts by Republican Ray Carroll to exclude Lopez from a piece of the $13.5 million to be distributed in 241 contracts to Tucson lawyers for indigent criminal defense.

Carroll tried twice, once with an amendment to Elias' motion and again with a substitute motion, to strike Lopez from receiving three contracts to represent murder, felony and misdemeanor defendants.

Only Sharon Bronson, the Democratic chair of the Board of Supervisors, sided with Carroll. Bronson led the movement eight years ago to keep Michael Lex from serving as a judge pro tem because Lex was reprimanded for reportedly saying only "whores wear red shoes."

With Republican Ann Day on vacation, the issue deadlocked 2-2 when Democrat Ramon Valadez sided with Elias.

Elias muddled the issue by saying the board should not single out Lopez for treatment different from other county employees and lawyers who leave county jobs to enter private practices that are bolstered by county contracts.

Supervisors approved 234 contracts and held contracts for Lopez and four other former prosecutors who were swept up in the controversy swirling around Lopez and Schwartz. They are Janet Altschuler, Nicki DiCampli, Paul Skitzki and Brad Roach. DiCampli, a prosecutor for the Pascua Yaqui Nation, and Skitzki, now a county public defender, say they are content in the current jobs and won't seek the county contracts for which they were recommended.

That didn't stop Elias from lopping them into the "controversy" and putting them on a hold list for a meeting on Sept. 13.

Altschuler, DiCampli, Roach and Skitzki were all disciplined by County Attorney Barbara LaWall last year for their supposed knowledge of what their friend Lopez knew about Schwartz's threats. DiCampli and Roach successfully appealed their three-week suspensions. The county last week was forced to pay Roach $3,645 in back pay and DiCampli $3,108.

Contracts for two others, potential retirees Lee Ann Roads and Peggy Young, also were delayed because they currently work for the county. Elias said he was offended to receive a letter saying a lawyer's retirement from the county was contingent upon receiving indigent-defense contracts.

Elias also won support to refer the matter to the county Justice Coordinating Council and to get review from John Leonardo, the presiding judge of Superior Court, and James Angiulo, presiding justice of the peace. Lopez once clerked for Leonardo, whose son Nathan landed three contracts worth $115,000. Nathan Leonardo is Roach's partner. Roach is recommended to receive up to $115,000 in contracts.

"This (Lopez contracts) is a category all to itself," Carroll said.

Indeed, Lopez was forced to resign from her job as a deputy county attorney nearly three years ago, just before she was indicted on federal drug charges that arose out of the bogus prescription scheme Schwartz perpetrated. She pleaded guilty to a reduced charge and completed her probation last November.

A county ordinance adopted 14 years ago bars lawyers and other vendors from receiving contracts if they are under indictment, have been convicted of any crimes or are under regulatory discipline.

Carroll, in interviews, said the more troubling issue was Lopez's failure to notify police that Schwartz repeatedly made threats that he wanted to have Dr. David Brian Stidham killed. Stidham was brutally murdered on Oct. 5 outside his North First Avenue office. Schwartz and Ronald Bruce Bigger, the man accused of stabbing Stidham, are in the Pima County Jail awaiting a scheduled Nov. 15 trial on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Lopez told detectives about Schwartz's threats three days after the murder and only after Skitzki pressured her to do so.

"She violated the ethical standards for a lawyer and for any profession," said Carroll, whose questions about Lopez prompted the supervisors' brief discussion June 21 on the wisdom of granting hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts to Lopez and other former county prosecutors, including others who were swept up in the Schwartz case. "She has a duty to prevent future crimes. She also has a fiduciary interest and responsibility. Her inaction had a real domino effect. We, the county and the taxpayers, are now facing a $20 million claim from Stidham's widow."

Pima County has yet to respond to the claim filed by Tucson lawyer Gerald Maltz on behalf of Daphne Stidham, who has since sold her Sabino Canyon-area home, just two blocks from where Schwartz's family once lived, and returned to her Texas home.

"We can't have people with such low standards. She should have known from her professional experience that this Schwartz was a felonious character. I believe we have the opportunity to the politicians and representatives to have a say in these contracts, particularly for $140,000 that can be rolled over for five years. That's $700,000," Carroll said.

Supervisors paid little heed to the county's "Bad Boy" ordinance when they ratified contracts for Lopez worth up to a maximum of $255,000 from February 2004 through June 30--the last day of the 2005 fiscal year. Lopez attended the supervisors meeting July 5, but she and others were not allowed to speak about the new round of contracts.

Lopez has not answered Weekly questions about her fitness for county contracts since she did not respond to queries for the May 5 "Defense Contract" story that detailed her county-paid work. She testified in county civil service hearings that hindsight provides a better view, and that if she knew then what she knows now, she would have done something to alert authorities or Stidham, a man she knew and described as a gentle and good person.

Instead, Lopez concocted other schemes, involving friends, to warn Stidham. Those warnings were never issued.

Carroll and Valadez also said in separate interviews that they were bothered by Lopez's apparent disdain for her county clients. She told a sheriff's detective that "most of them are idiots."

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