Best Of Tucson®

Lawyers, Guns and Money

Attorneys Phil Higdon, Stanton Bloom, Amelia Craig Cramer, Fred Kay and Paul Gattone

Well before he became an erudite media and commercial lawyer, Phil Higdon spun hits as a high-school disc jockey in Kansas. Beatles, Beach Boys and The Supremes.

Now Higdon stops the spin--government spin.

Mary Wilson could be the Weekly, the Daily Star or another media diva getting "Nothing But Heartache" from the keep-secrets-secret powers at the Tucson Unified School District, Pima County or the state.

She'd be saved by Higdon and his associates at Brown & Bain, lawyers who understand the media's role in democracy.

Higdon and his crew have whipped county lawyers and administrators who wanted to keep police and autopsy reports secret. Higdon has served press and public by defeating TUSD and its boss, Joel Ireland, in the state Court of Appeals on why the dirty details of employee misconduct and expensive settlements are the public's business. He and Brown & Bain also forced the County Attorney to release details of that office's improper system of cash bonuses.

Hear Diana Ross sing "I'm Giving You Your Freedom" for what Higdon has done for a vibrant press, even the poor schmucks at The Skinny.

The winner is not some self-righteous editor. It is the public.

Higdon majored in journalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas. He then took a master's degree in radio, television and film. He worked radio through college, including news and sports.

At the University of Texas, Higdon was associate editor of the Texas Law Review, and graduated with honors in 1972. He moved to Tucson in 1989.

Tucson, Higdon says, is a fit. "I like having Phoenix nearby and without having to live in it. And I like having the University in the middle of the place."

THERE'D BE NO shock if into Stanton Bloom's Steinfeld Mansion office walked a slippery sort who began: "Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm a man of wealth and taste. I've been around for a long, long year, stole many a man's soul and fate."

Bloom would have no Sympathy for the Devil. What interests and motivates Bloom is the Constitution. Bloom is in it to protect the rest of us.

The son of a commercial real estate broker, Bloom grew up on Chicago's South Side. He's a Sox fan. He's adapted enough here to enjoy--with striking composure--the UA basketball games with his public-school teacher wife.

Stanton Bloom studied history at Ohio State University and received his law degree from Northwestern University. He has worked the courts of Tucson since 1973. Rail thin, Bloom is smart, clever, tough and tenacious. He can be calm. He can be animated. What he cannot be is tolerant of lies and distortion from the opposition. He forces prosecutors and politicians to tell the truth.

He exposed the Joe McCarthy monkeys on the Board of Supervisors a few years back when they went after Pima County's power-disturbed assessor, Alan Lang.

Friendly and supremely loyal, Bloom is not too important to defend a friend on a traffic matter in City Court. He has been unfairly targeted for scorn because of his nastier, more deranged clients. His work defending Frank Jarvis Atwood, on Death Row in Florence for 15 years for the brutal murder of a lovely little Tucson girl, was courageous. Bloom risked his own health and life to defend not so much that devil, but our system of law and criminal justice.

He has had other clients to shield from lynch mobs and political panderers and for that he is one of the few recipients of the prestigious Award for Courageous Advocacy by the American College of Trial Lawyers.

He also was a respected member of Pima County's Commission on Trial Court Appointments.

Bloom is the one you want in your corner.

You may not know it; he's already been there.

CHATTING ABOUT THE obvious upgrade in Pima County's civil law operation, some friends noted the professionalism, fine manners and genuine nice personality of Amelia Craig Cramer.

She is honest. She is precise. She does not waste words.

But pity the person on the opposite side. She can shred even the most defensive and best defended with stunning economy.

Indeed, Cramer has brought sophistication and brainpower to the county.

Her influence and impact was felt soon after she joined the county from Brown & Bain. With none of the billowy rhetoric of presumptuous politicians, Cramer scored real victories to preserve land at Tucson Mountain Park as well as gain proper authority for the county to limit destructive development on lands nearby. Billboards are her next target.

From a prestigious law family, Cramer graduated from Dartmouth. She'd wanted to be a journalist and had interned at a couple of big papers in Philly and London before studying law, including with the libel and media law expert Marc Franklin, at Stanford. She worked in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston before coming to Tucson.

At Brown & Bain she fought for free speech and for a free, even cranky, press.

Amelia Craig Cramer is much more than a lawyer. She and her spouse, Amy, are the proud parents of Meg. She has devoted thousands of hours to her profession and to the rights of people of all sexual orientations. Cramer is a founding member and past co-chair of the city's Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues. She also is a founding member of the State Bar of Arizona's Committee on Sexual Orientation and past co-chair of the Arizona Human Rights Fund.

It is in these capacities that Cramer has impressed many who approach the table convinced that they will disagree.

They leave pleasantly persuaded.

LEAVE IT TO FRED Kay, when called as a selection for the Best of Tucson®, to point the finger. Members of his own staff in the Federal Public Defender's Office, he says, are much more deserving.

Kay is a fan of Amarillo-born Jimmie Dale Gilmore, whose frank and stark tunes evoke the West's wide-open spaces. So when his modesty continued, we could hear Gilmore's "My Mind's Got a Mind of Its Own."

We reminisced about the time in late 1987 when Kay and a young lawyer won an impressive acquittal for a Montana art dealer on trial in Tucson for defrauding clients. Kay gives all credit to his co-counsel.

Fred Kay went to Boston after earning his bachelor's degree in business from the University of Arizona. He received his law degree from the New England School of Law and returned to join Pima County's first Public Defender's Office in 1969. He moved to the feds two years later and was promoted to the top job in 1984.

He and his team spend a lot less time in trial these days, inundated with drug and immigration cases unique to the border district. The grids of sentencing guidelines further erode court work.

That's a shame. Kay is a gifted lawyer who combines his thorough knowledge of the law and procedure with genuine humility. He speaks in plain language and does not engage in showmanship.

You can see him in Sam Hughes in his yellow 'Binder, a 1973 3/4-ton International. Can't get more unpretentious than that.

What steam he has to blow off he does pedaling his bike up the Mount Lemmon Highway. Many pass him. He doesn't mind. He can hear Jimmie Dale Gilmore: "Don't Look for Heartache."

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE. What else would Paul Gattone listen to?

Public Enemy.

And while Gattone frets what the next incarnation of Rage will be, he is satisfied, at least in the afternoon and evening, with KFMA.

Gattone has been raging against the machine--the powerful, the oppressive, the rich and the dishonest--for most of his life.

Out of the University of Arizona College of Law in 1988, Gattone clerked for a Tucson firm that did the city's work defending indigents in City Court. He continued that until the City Council decided to create more bureaucracy with a city Public Defender's Office. Then Gattone created the Southern Arizona People's Law Center in 1990 to represent the poor suffering under slumlords and those facing the boot from their homes.

Cobbling together a budget from Pima County grants and well as grants from the State Bar Foundation and HUD, Gattone has been fighting those fights, as well as civil and human rights battles, ever since.

He and his small staff work to keep families in their apartments and homes and off the street. Slumlords claim they have no money to lay down a floor or seal dangerous wires, but they have plenty of jack to sue and serve eviction notices. Gattone has moved the People's Center into other arenas. He has built civil and human rights work to include advocacy for minorities, those under the threat and under the foot of the police, and those at the end of the line in prison.

He fought City Hall's sweep of homeless and panhandlers. He fought anti-cruising laws.

Gattone majored in political science and history at the UA and says that although he did not arrive from Chicago until he was 19, he "grew up and came of age" in Tucson.

Gattone, who still cruises the UA on regular jogs, operates the People's Law Center at 611 N. Fourth Ave., the hub of '60s counterculture that is now in the eye of the culture clash.

Rage, Paul, rage.