The Skinny

INJUSTICE: Judge William Scholl got caught, seven years ago, in the middle of a nasty fight federal prosecutors waged against some of Tucson's defense bar. One target, Gregory D'Antonio, was a Tucson lawyer who was accused of serving as the broker for a drug cartel that shipped more than a half ton of marijuana across country. D'Antonio cooperated with the feds. He took a plea deal in 1994 that resulted in prison time of one year and a day for two lesser charges.

From that came an outrageous allegation that Scholl, then on the Pima County Superior Court bench for 10 years, was taking bribes from defense lawyers to fuel his high-stakes gambling.

Scholl, a former cop who is married to a retired sheriff's sergeant, never hid his gambling from anyone, though few knew how deep his habit went. From D'Antonio's mouth, the feds moved to investigate Scholl and his winnings at the dog track, his infrequent but big scores in Las Vegas and ultimately the debts that he piled up at a few casinos from his plays at blackjack and the sports books. They couldn't even begin to get him on accepting a bribe, but he was such an attractive trophy that the investigation shifted to income tax. And in late 1995, a few days after he spent an evening with a bunch of other judges at the dog track in South Tucson, Scholl was indicted on 11 counts of filing false tax returns and illegally manipulating bank deposits.

We've been mostly pleased by the performance of Janet Napolitano as Arizona attorney general, but as the U.S. Attorney for Arizona six years ago, she should have dumped this case or had it referred for a civil resolution.

The trial in Phoenix in the fall of 1996 was a terrific show: Flamboyant but out-of-sync Bob Hirsh against Tom Fink and Robert Miskell--young, methodical and nerdy prosecutors who were so joined at the hip for this case that the judge (and their former boss), Roslyn O. Silver, once addressed one of them as "Fiskell." That's right--we said former boss. Silver should have recused herself for that reason alone. She was quite cozy with prosecutors and her deputy, Rhonda Garrison, was married to another colleague of Fink and Miskell (hey, this Fiskell thing is easier) in the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Silver had been installed by then-U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini. One of the top aides to the Arizona Democrat was Silver's brother-in-law.

Besides bringing cookies baked by her husband to the poorly treated jury, Silver seemed to enjoy reining in Hirsh while providing guidance to prosecutors. She gave prosecutors great leeway to trash Scholl for all sorts of irrelevant matters and allowed the often inaccurate and misleading casino rating records--used to measure gambling activity to award comps. The crowning moment came during Hirsh's closing argument when she looked at Fink and told him to stand up (a wildly inappropriate bit of coaching for him to object). Scholl was convicted in November 1996 on seven counts and part of another.

Even some of those he had sentenced spoke up for Scholl and even with the daily coverage of the trial in the Arizona Daily Star, voters approved his retention in the general election just two days before Hirsh's closing argument.

When she sentenced Scholl to five years probation the following February, Silver as much as gave reason to set aside the verdict when she made herself comfortable in not sending Scholl to prison. The records--those that pit bosses and floor managers attempt to keep on frenetic casino floors--as well as others were unreliable, she conceded. Said she: "There was no ensuring that these records were accurate. These records weren't prepared for taxes. They weren't prepared for auditing. If there wasn't that soft underbelly or unreliability of these records then I would be less concerned," she said in response to prosecutors' demand for prison. At one point at the sentencing, she even said that a prosecutor was "building speculation upon speculation."

That's exactly why Silver shouldn't have allowed those records to be used in any way in trial.

Scholl's appeal failed. He has lived an exemplary life, stayed away from his previous gambling addiction, worked hard as a lawyer with his friends Richard Bock and Larry Lingeman, and been a good family man. He suffered the loss of his mother and he and his wife Claire also recently suffered the loss of her son. They continue to lovingly care for their severely disabled son, TJ, while one daughter is a top golfer for the University of Hawaii and another practices law in Tucson. And time is winding down on that probation and an end to what Scholl has called a "nightmare."

And now, more than five years after his indictment and more than four since his conviction, Scholl must face another injustice. The state Supreme Court suspended his law license last week for six months. There was some consolation. The State Bar wanted to bust Scholl out, essentially, forever.

On the way out of office, President Bill Clinton pardoned a more infamous Arizonan, J. Fife Symington III, the one-and-a-half-term governor who was convicted in the same building nearly a year after Scholl's trial. Clinton should have signed one for Scholl.

HONEY BEE BUZZ: Citizens for Open Government successfully gathered more than 1,000 signatures for its referendum effort in Oro Valley. The group, which seeks to reverse a Town Council agreement to annex land adjacent to Honey Bee Canyon, needed less than 500 signatures to force a public vote on the issue.

The owners of the property, Vistoso Partners, hope to build luxury homes along the south bank of the canyon, one of the last first-class riparian areas left in our sprawling metro area. The property is now in Pima County, but Vistoso hopes to cut a deal for higher density once the land is part of Oro Valley. They've already agreed to give the town 1.6 acres of land for reservoirs in exchange for an amendment to the town's general plan. If the Town Council doesn't change the plan, Oro Valley taxpayers would have to pay up to a half-million bucks for the reservoir land.

Citizens for Open Government wanted to run a referendum on the pre-annexation agreement, but the town staff determined that was an administrative rather than legislative decision. Rather than fight a costly court battle, organizers instead ran a referendum on the subsequent annexation question.

As of press time, the town had yet to find a loophole with which to reject the referendum petition.

RED-HOT CHILI PAPERS: At Tucson's daily rags, the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen, it is chile verde: green peppers that are the central gauges--kinda like those hokey United Way thermometers--for the new "Kick It Up A Notch" campaign to get employees to subscribe. Reporters and editors, as well as the robots at the papers' Tucson Newspapers Inc., are being compelled in meetings to buy subscriptions. Marketing goofs are telling reporters, editors and others that they can't very well market a product that their own people don't buy. Marketers and the bosses have conceded that they can't force the employers to subscribe but, they say, "we have a list. And we know who subscribes and who doesn't." Discriminating readers? Not really. But most read it in the office or online and see no reason to blow $150 a year on a subscription. That money could be better spent putting together a professional résumé.

In the meantime, the Star is being extra-generous to business subscribers, who recently got a letter telling them they'd be getting two copies of the paper instead of just one so they "can share a copy with customers or other employees." Now there's an easy way to prop up those circulation numbers.

These pushes are the result of weak penetration, a chronic problem for the Star. It's still anemic even after the arrival of la roja Jane Amari and her Gannettoids. All the makeovers ain't gonna help it. And Citizen circulation is so bad that the median ban on hawkers is threatening to bring it to a close or force a true consolidation. Both papers have instituted new cost-saving measures.

And that makes all the more ludicrous and insulting Amari's remarks she made some time ago during an appearance--with her lipstick-stained teeth--before builders and some real Tucson business leaders. Asked about the future of the Citizen by Steve Emerine, a PR fixer who is a former editor and columnist at the Star and at the Citizen as well as a former county assessor, Amari flippantly replied that she was concerned only about the Star. This was a display of Amari's hypocrisy -- she had promised the group a new attitude at the Star, an assurance that she and her editors and reporters would be responsive and not short or rude to customers.

Amari ought to care about the Citizen. It is a partner with the Star in a huge company that prints and distributes both papers, sells advertising for both papers, and increasingly manages their money. What happens to the weak Citizen certainly affects the Star. It would be as if Jane said she only cared about her horse when someone asked her about the stable.

Jane, like Mayor Bob Walkup, is looking more and more like an empty suit.

SMOKING GUN: Just in time for more publicity, Democratic Supervisor Raul Grijalva is resurrecting a ban on restaurant smoking in unincorporated Pima County. Grijalva, the board chairman, seems oblivious to the fact that the county Board of Health shot down the measure two years ago. He wants a law that will be stricter than the city's ban. Democrats Sharon Bronson (who screamed about Grijalva's incessant smoking in county offices several years ago) and Dan Eckstrom joined Grijalva in seeking the ban, as did Republican Ann Day. Republican Ray Carroll, himself a helpless nicotine addict, voted against the proposal.

It would be nice if someone else would sponsor this measure. Grijalva pollutes a lot of air in county buildings with his smoke and has done so since taking office in 1989--two years after the county banned smoking in its buildings. And Grijalva has shown little compassion for the waiters and waitresses and other employees when he lights up at the restaurants and bars he frequents.

While we're at it, somebody please remind TUSD Board member Judy Burns that smoking--indeed, having tobacco--on school properties is against state law. She's still lighting up near the TUSD board room as well as on campuses at other meetings.

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