The Skinny

OBJECTION: Why is that every time Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall woos the media she comes off not only as a spinmeister but also as a crybaby?

The latest was her prop-filled (where have we seen this before?) press conference staged Thursday to announce her "proactive" and sweeping management changes and improvements.

She will evaluate cases more closely with an eye to disposing more of them through plea bargains. This is a real change of heart from the Democratic crime-buster's usual whine that "I was not elected County Plea Bargainer." It comes not from any proactive move but from the real heat generated by an audit that shows her office has driven up the cost of the entire county judicial system with trial rates that are the highest in the state. Then again, who cares? Voters seem to be pleased as punch with a Board of Supervisors that has levied the highest property taxes in the state for the last three years.

And LaWall, stung by the investigations into the actions and grievous mistakes made by her top guns, Ken Peasley and David White, announced she would place two prosecutors on first-degree murder cases and other complex cases.

There was nothing "proactive" about either change. One was the result of the findings of the aforementioned justice system audit that LaWall resisted. The latter tries to save face while Peasley and White squirm in front of the bar.

LaWall and her handlers, Chief Deputy Mary Judge Ryan and PR man Dan Benavidez, had to be theatrical. LaWall spoke surrounded by 60 big boxes of files from four recent cases. Whatever the latest stunt cost--lugging boxes and files and writing and rehearsing--it was neither money nor time well spent. LaWall now makes $96,600 a year in salary set by state law; Judge Ryan pulls in a whopping $102,100, which is wildly more than she could make in private practice; and Benavidez the PR boy gets $42,024.

LaWall whined that there were 4,523 pages of documents in the case in which Peasley and retired Tucson Police Det. Joe Godoy elicited and recited false testimony. Peasley, in his last show before the bar in hearings that have been superbly covered by the Daily Star's Joe Salkowski, is crying that he was overworked and ill. Mini-strokes led him to use Godoy to utter what they knew was false.

Testilying and prosecutorial misconduct are bad things everywhere but in Tucson. Here we just sob for those who do it.

LaWall slipped past credulity on one of her frequent radio appearances with another PR man, John C. Scott. She went on and on about her "proactive" approach and that Peasley and White were all alone in handling these tough, complex cases.


Even former Assistant Public Defender Michael Crawford, also a frequent mouth on the Scott show, had to respond to that. Crawford correctly pointed out that far from being proactive, LaWall named Peasley her chief prosecutor after the facts came out about his screw-ups in the mess that is El Grande. Moreover, neither Peasley nor any other prosecutor is "alone" handling the case or in trial. They are part of the law-enforcement side that includes cops, investigators, detectives, paralegals and others to help out.

The Skinny is still an equal opportunity critic, so it's appropriate to remind readers that Crawford is no friend of the taxpayer. He was a benchwarmer in Ward 3 on the City Council while trying--not very hard--to be a defense lawyer. And this is the same Michael Crawford, though perpetually critical of county government and spending, who was shameless enough to ditch work and a court appearance to audition for an appearance on Politically Incorrect.

LaWall has a problem, part of which she carried over from her years of service to former County Attorney Stephen D. Neely, who though abrasive was easier to take during his nearly 20-year reign. Her office, which runs on a yearly budget of nearly $30 million, suffers from a "win-at-all-cost" attitude. It is inculcated not only in her criminal division but also on the civil side. That is most apparent with the lawyers handling personnel matters before the county Merit Commission and in court, as well as those who handle the crappy zoning condition cases involving some poor schmuck who may have a car or clothesline or fence out of place on a patch of dirt between here and Ajo.

RATE MONGERS: As if its ultra-high property taxes were not bad enough, the mismanaged, ungoverned Tucson Unified School District went shopping this week for a little extra tax to pay a bill already paid. TUSD Board President Carolyn Kemmeries and Superintendent Estanislado Y. Paz cruised to the right place, the Pima County Board of Supervisors.

They found markups in every aisle of the county's tax super center. After all, Republican Supervisors "Sugar" Ray Carroll and Ann Day were happy to join Democratic mentors Raúl Grijalva, Sharon Bronson and Dan Eckstrom in voting to keep Pima County's taxes the highest in the state of Arizona. Congratulations.

Carroll and Day were bright enough not to cater to TUSD, however, on the district's emergency request for an extra $1.6 million. After Kemmeries' dumb-blonde routine ("I didn't know about this when I got on the board --"), Grijalva, Bronson and Eckstrom voted to raise TUSD's already outlandish property tax by another $20 for the owner of a business property on the tax rolls for $100,000. The same business will pay wasteful TUSD a total of $2,452, a nearly 10-percent increase this year.

Supervisors should have just said no. This was not for books, supplies, teachers, teacher aides, bus drivers or crossing guards. It was for TUSD's greedy lawyers at DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy and to pay for a court settlement that TUSD and those lawyers should have been paying attention to way back in 1996. The Arizona Tax Research Association appropriately pointed out that TUSD had not suffered. It paid what it owed and had a surplus.

Sugar Ray and Day were not so bright when it came to the county's tax slate. They blindly followed the Democrats in approving outrageous county rates that are up 16 percent in one category and nearly 10 percent overall compared to 1997. All but Day, who does not live within TUSD, benefit from a state law that protects them and their own homes from the tax increases they began passing four years ago.

Sugar Ray, who defeated tax-and-spend queen Brenda Even in 1998, has held himself out to be an anti-tax crusader because of his lone opposition to a countywide half-cent sales tax. He voted against the big increase two years ago, but has since displayed no leadership in trimming the county budget. Stop parading, Ray. The high property tax is causing a lot of harm in your district in Vail, the Tanque Verde Valley and particularly Green Valley.

YOU BETCHA: The Tohono O'odham Nation is getting puff piece after puff piece in the Star-Citizen about its government and casinos. The tribe spends big bucks on Washington, D.C., PR/political geniuses David Steele and Matt Smith. They learned their tricks while creating reality for Sen. Dennis DeConcini and are polished veterans of the fake letters to the editor. (Remember the Mount Graham telescopes?) They lean on the Star to get fully positive press.

And when it comes to the Indian gambling halls, forget it. The Star alone in recent weeks has cranked out three front-page or section-front stories that read like promotions for the Tohono O'odhams' new casino off Interstate 19 near Sahuarita. And real estate writer/promoter Macario Juarez jumped in last week with a flattering story about the construction of the new casino.

Not a discouraging word. Not a word from Gamblers Anonymous. Not a word about the traffic problems, an issue raised only in a letter from a miner whose commute is now made more dangerous by those who can't find the casino exit.

The tribe deserves the praise. It pays for it. And has paid for it for a long time, with the weekly ad on the back page of the Star's unimaginative Caliente. Last time we checked, that's about $3,000 a pop.

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