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RECRUITING BLUES

With U.S. war deaths in Iraq now topping 1,600, the Army is having a hard time signing up enough warm young bodies to ship to battle. Recruiters have been aggressively ratcheting up their persuasion techniques to fill their quotas, some allegedly to the point of abuse--so much so that the Army called a halt to all recruitment efforts for one day last week, so that the offenders could re-learn ethical conduct.

A big problem has been that the No Child Left Behind Act is a stealth military-recruiting tool. The act is not just about tough standards and testing; it also orders high schools to give military recruiters access to students.

Here in Tucson, a group of Tucson High Magnet School parents complained to the school board last winter that overly aggressive recruiters were on campus up to four days a week.

To its credit, the district immediately drew up a new policy limiting military recruiters to the same amount of time at schools that college recruiters get. But the kids' contact info is still being freely given to the military; teens can get letters in the mail or phone calls at night from their friendly neighborhood soldier.

TUSD has come up with an opt-out form for parents to sign that will forbid their child's name and address from being handing over to the Army. As Country Joe McDonald might say, if you don't want to be the first one on your block to have your boy--or girl--come home from Iraq in a box, get the Military Recruiter Opt-Out Form by clicking on http://www.tusd.k12.az.us/contents/govboard/gbpolreg.html.

Parents must fill out a new form each school year, and it's valid only at the child's current school.


BYE-BYE, BENAVIDEZ

So why is Daniel Benavidez out as chief mouthpiece for Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall? Is it because:

A. Somebody slapped some sense into LaWall and told her she's been experiencing an eight-month public-relations train wreck with no end in sight, so she got rid of an ineffective Benavidez.

B. The operation of the County Attorney's Office under LaWall is so whacked that even PR rat Benavidez jumped ship.

C. Everything is just dandy, but Benavidez is eager to seek new challenges.

Take your pick. It doesn't matter. Benavidez is leaving his $51,750-a-year county job to join Ridgewood Associates Public Relations, aka The Bablove/Ridgewood Workgroup. What a coup! Benavidez just came off a nearly two-week sit-in while the county Merit Commission waded through testimony on whether LaWall was justified in her utterly clumsy firing of Paul Skitzki and suspensions of Nicki DiCampli and Brad Roach. All three made the mistake of getting too close to Lourdes Lopez, their disgraced former prosecutorial colleague. L-Lo's brush with fame comes from being the woman who was going to marry Dr. Bradley Schwartz, who awaits trial on murder charges.

Benavidez also bumbled and whimpered and attempted to deflect when LaWall went AWOL last October, November and December as the case against Schwartz, accused of hiring Ronald Bruce Bigger to kill a former medical associate, Dr. David Brian Stidham, blew up with L-Lo's tawdry tales of how Schwartz ranted about wanting to kill the beloved Stidham.

At the conclusion of the Merit Commission, at which LaWall was sternly rebuked and labeled unbelievable in the DiCampli and Roach cases (but upheld on Skitzki's firing), Benavidez rose with a partially filled notepad and empty brain. A good spin doc would have rounded up the talking heads and anyone else who would listen--hey, we might have--and told them: "Today, ladies and gentlemen, our county civil service commission, after a mountain of evidence, upheld Barbara LaWall's decision to fire Paul Skitzki, who learned from Lourdes Lopez that Brad Schwartz wanted to have Stidham killed. That is strong, loud and profound vindication of blah, blah, blah."

Instead, a mute Benavidez slithered up to Wendy Petersen, the deputy county attorney who suffered migraines while trying to defend LaWall, to see if she needed help with her luggage. Her stock rose with us when she said "no."


CSI: SONORA

Why is DNA--from the supposed bad guy--found on radio dials in cars in crime cases, but not on shifters, light switches and steering wheels? Why do these suspects monkey with the radio and leave it unclean? A state criminologist says he found DNA from Ronald Bruce Bigger on the radio knobs of the Dr. David Brian Stidham's 1992 Lexus coupe. In disclosures made public May 20, state Department of Public Safety criminologist Curtis Reinbold said he detected Bigger's DNA on three of 14 locations in the Lexus.

That is the first substantial link to Bigger, who also was seen and heard by witnesses as he used a phone at a convenience store near Stidham's office. Now Richard Lougee, Bigger's court-appointed lawyer, will begin his battle to make that DNA finding insignificant, irrelevant or tainted.

The finding also is a link between Bigger and the man Bigger, 39, called from that convenience store, Dr. Brad Schwartz, 40. He is accused of hiring Bigger to kill Stidham, a 37-year-old specialist whom Schwartz recruited from Texas in 1999. Bigger, sheriff's detectives and prosecutors say, joined Schwartz and Schwartz's date, Lisa Goldberg, at a Thai restaurant on Grant Road after Stidham was killed. Schwartz then paid for a hotel room for Bigger.

Lougee and Brick Storts, Schwartz's court-appointed lawyer, will battle to challenge the DNA, which they contend was hogged in time and quantity by the prosecution and its analysts.

The disclosure comes as Storts is asking for the November trial to be moved because of the effect the widespread media coverage may have on jurors. Three specs of DNA, we guess, will be enough for a jury here, let alone in more-conservative Arizona counties, to convict Bigger and make it easier to convict Schwartz. Both are charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

Storts said in an interview May 19 that he had no choice, given the extensive coverage of the Stidham murder, to seek a new venue. To do otherwise, he said, would raise questions about his effectiveness as Schwartz's lawyer.


MISSED TRUST

State trust-land reform backers appear closer to launching an initiative, after lawmakers blew off the issue during the last legislative session. On a recent visit to Tucson, State Land Commissioner Mark Winkleman said a proposition is in the works.

Winkleman oversees about 9 million or so acres of state land that is held in trust for various beneficiaries, mostly education. The Arizona Constitution requires the land be sold off for its "highest and best use," which means unloading the land at auction to the highest bidder. As the state moves more and more trust land, environmentalists fret that sensitive parcels are going to end up covered in tract housing. The recent fight over Fantasy Island, the eastside bike haven located on state land, is good example of the kind of fights that are erupting around the state.

The Skinny recently participated in a 20-minute poll that quizzed us on our feelings about state land. The pollster dropped names like Janet Napolitano and John McCain and asked if we thought it was sufficient to set aside 7 percent of state land for conservation. They also hinted at other campaign messages: How did we feel about paying state land employees with dollars from land sales instead of tax dollars? How did we like the idea of generating more money for education without raising taxes?

The last major land-reform package on the ballot, back in 2000, was a phony developer-friendly deal that didn't do enough for the cacti crowd, who ran a decent enough low-budget campaign to narrowly defeat the proposal.

Sounds like many of the greens are being left out again this time. "It's being created behind closed doors, and I haven't seen it," says Sonja Macys, executive director of the Tucson Audubon Society, who adds that she's not alone. If something is in the works, "there are a lot of conservation groups that haven't been engaged in preparing it."

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