Journalists’ Roundtable

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Three local journalists will discuss the week’s big stories.



Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable. We'll discuss the contempt of court proceedings against sheriff Joe Arpaio. And governor Ducey signs a bill allowing same-sex couples to adopt. The Journalists' Roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon."

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you. ¶¶

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining us tonight: Mike Sunnucks of "The Phoenix Business Journal." Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. And Ben Giles of "the Arizona Capitol Times." All eyes this week on the contempt of court hearing against Maricopa county sheriff Joe Arpaio. All right, mike. Let's get the background, let's get the overview and then start diving bombing here.

Mike Sunnucks: Huge fireworks this week, big national story on whether the sheriff and his top deputy and the sheriff's office were defying the federal court's order related to racial profiling of Hispanics. Whether they were intentionally doing this, whether they were incompetent in doing this. I think obviously, the biggest story is the sheriff admitting that private investigators were investigating judge snow, the federal judge's wife over this because of some comments that might have been made about their feelings about the sheriff and this just fits back into all these abuse of power charges, past cases that the sheriff and his office have been involved with, with political enemies, media enemies but there's so many layers to this on how the office is managed, whether the sheriff is in charge at all, whether there's competence there, whether they were intentionally defying a federal court order, and then obviously these investigations by private investigators into a federal judge's spouse.

Howard Fischer: Well, and this goes, you know, to one of the bigger word I think is paranoia. This sheriff and he does talk about himself in the third person this way, says they're all out to get me. Obama is out to get me. The governor was out to get him. Everybody was out to get him. So this private investigator based on something that somebody overheard at a restaurant supposedly with the judge's wife telling somebody at a restaurant well my husband's going to get him, they hire a private investigator, excuse me his lawyer hires a private investigator to go ahead and find out and this came up almost accidentally, because the judge himself decided to question Arpaio to say let's talk about some of these investigations. Let's talk about some of the money and little by little and all of a sudden and, by the way, judge, here's what I know about your wife. Oh, my god.

Ted Simons: Well, not only that but before they got there, if I remember correctly, they were talking about an investigation into the justice department because the justice department was looking into the sheriff's office and there were rumors and thoughts and e-mails that perhaps correspondents' phones of everyone involved were hacked or being monitored, goodness, gracious, everyone was being monitored.

Ben Giles: Makes you wonder who else might be investigated by either a P.I. or and exactly who is doing these investigations into the department of justice. Is it people within the sheriff's office? And I think it certainly does play up into this paranoia, but the other thing that we keep seeing in the courtroom this week is also a pass the buck attitude. As was mentioned, the council hired the P.I.'s, I didn't hire the P.I.'s. I just make suggestions to my deputies, I don't actually carry out this court order to stop racially profiling.

Howard Fischer: And who the hell then is running the department? You know, he ran for office, wanted this elected job so that he could set policy. But then when it comes down to who said, you know, go ahead and question people who you suspect are illegal immigrants, who said don't keep the tapes that the judge said that you're supposed to keep oh, that wasn't me. That was someone else.

Mike Sunnucks: Well, it's a question of is it plausible deniability? Do you protect the sheriff from charges and harm by having the staff do it? Is it leadership's style? He's 82 years old. Is it his age? Is it a combination of it all? Is it Nixonian? A lot of the opponents will connect the dots, folks they've investigated, the new times publishers that they arrested and you see parallels with how Andy Thomas felt towards the judges and the paranoia there but you see this hands-off there's two sheriffs, there's this one that's out to the media, the toughest lawman, and then when he shows up in court, he's much more docile, he's passing the buck, he's the suggester rather than the toughest guy in the state.

Ben Giles: And that hands-off suggestive attitude is maybe the best argument that he can make right now because he's already admitted contempt of court. Now, they're trying to determine was it willful or was it ignorant.

Ted Simons: We're having people from the department who are saying I talked to him, he personally told me this. He advised me to do this. There was a deposition from a supervisor and Arpaio's supervisor was I don't give orders, I'm not in the military, deputies made the decisions based on circumstances.

Howard Fischer: Not only that, I don't seem to recall and certainly newspapers are not a military structure, my editors did not give me suggestions on stories to write. I'm sorry. If you're a deputy and this is a military hierarchy. Sheriff says do something, you do it. None of this suggestion stuff. I don't think any of this is going to wash. I think the judge is ultimately going to decide look, it's not just you can't remember. Oh, I'm too old. But all the other testimony that you talk about to say wait a second these people said you told them, you directed, and even if you didn't personally direct, ultimately, the buck stops here.

Mike Sunnucks: But it's not an excuse either way. There is incompetence over there. If you looked at the way they bungled the rape cases and they just settled one with the young lady who was raped by her uncle and he didn't do anything and she was repeatedly raped by her uncle and the county had to settle that. They had these other cases where they haven't handled things very well -- the prostitution stings from several years ago that were all bungled and so there's that history. It's a combination of both, they're denying some things and they're incompetent sometimes.

Howard Fischer: I'm waiting for the 2016 race and joe has said he's running again, hi, I'm sheriff joe, I'm just incompetent.

Ted Simons: Well, we're going to get to that in a second here but then before even the bomb shell regarding the judge's wife being investigated, he apologized to the judge after they were showing all sorts of video and all the bravado and I'm not going to change anything, he went ahead and apologized to the judge saying he had a deep respect for courts and judges, didn't know all the facts of the court, didn't know all the facts of the court order, really hurts after 55 years to be in this position, I want to apologize to the judge, I should have known more, the court order slipped through the cracks. A court order slipped through the cracks? [ Laughter ]

Ben Giles: If you believe in the incompetency reason.

Mike Sunnucks: How they treated an entire group of people, Hispanics, and so you think that would be a court order that would sweep through policy, through the jails, how they treated inmates, how they treated people they pulled over, how they interacted. It wasn't like this one little thing, this e-mail that they happened to miss. It was a sweeping court order.

Ben Giles: And to say it slipped through the cracks right after the aclu's attorneys just played video after video of Arpaio on the campaign trail bragging about how the judges can't tell me what to do, no one can tell me what to do, I'm going to enforce the law or at least the law the way he sees it.

Howard Fischer: He put it in the shredder, slipped through the cracks. Oh, come on. This is a guy who insists he knew everything going on. He talked about how it didn't matter if the federal government revoked his 287 status which allowed him and his deputies to act as immigration officers. He said I'm going to do what I damn well please, and it's very good politically, it's like pink underwear but in terms of a federal judge, does not wash.

Ted Simons: As far as Arpaio's allies, his underlings, his subordinates, how do they take all this, at the slightest hint of trouble, you've got the school bus tracks over your back.

Mike Sunnucks: A lot of turnover there. And there are some loyalists over there but I think if you talk to rank and file folks, he's more of a figurehead now. He's the guy that's on TV with the bravado but I don't think most of the rank and file think he's running the show over there. He has this two track defense is it's my underlings

Howard Fischer: Let me get deeper than that which goes to your question. If I'm working for sheriff joe, and I know that if something goes wrong, he's going to throw me under the bus, you know, or under the steamroller, I've got to wonder should I be looking for other work? I don't want to be the one standing in front of a federal judge explaining that somehow, it's my fault. There are people who will fall on swords, the whole history of that, pub there are a lot of deputies who are highly qualified people, a lot of officers who are highly qualified people who are not going to sit still for this.

Ben Giles: And I think that's why earlier in the week, I believe it was a sergeant that was testifying that joe got on the phone to tell him you need to detain these people who aren't suspected of anything, but you need to detain them because that's what we do. We detain people we suspect might be illegal immigrants.

Ted Simons: He said he argued with the sheriff and he held his ground with the sheriff and the sheriff said just go ahead and take some photographs. The sheriff backed down when asked about this. Sheriff didn't recall the conversation.

Howard Fischer: It's amazing how little he recalls anywhere. And that's the thing. If I'm a federal judge, juries do the same thing. You weigh the totality of the evidence. You judge the witness, the credibility of each witness and this is what judge snow is going to do. He's going to judge the credibility of all the people who stood there and said we've already got admission of contempt, what is the appropriate penalty? And is it criminal? Is that the next step?

Ted Simons: What does the judge do when he sees this?

Mike Sunnucks: I think you can see some penalties against the sheriff personally, and try not to have it come from the county. That's been a big point of contention. You've had so many settlements because of the sheriff's office actions and problems that the county's had to settle things. Greater powers, receiver type person that's in there and has some real power to monitor things, getting to the criminal charges is a big jump there because you have there's a bigger burden of proof there .

Howard Fischer: The problem with the oversight, it was a federal appellate ruling dealing with the same case from different angle and the ninth circuit said look we'll accept certain things but we're not quite ready to have a monitor in there in all the little details. That's overreach.

Ted Simons: It's got to be constitutional issues and yet going past some of those, they've got 30 some odd internal investigations going on. Who knows what's happening over there? Would be surprised to see criminal stuff coming out of this?

Ben Giles: I would. I would. I think at some point, we won't know how the internal investigations are going, probably through the next election cycle. We might not even know whether there's going to be criminal charges or not, whether or not in the future there's going to be a criminal contempt hearing. I could see a giant fine but I'm not sure.

Mike Sunnucks: We talked for years about abuse of power with Andy Thomas, obviously, and the sheriff and grand juries and whether we have somebody step forward and do that and we've never had that because we've had a Republican president in there and Republican U.S. attorneys and since Obama has been there, the aggressiveness of going that personally straight at Arpaio in a fight like that, which there's a case to be made. There's plenty of abuse of power.

Ted Simons: How is it not obstruction and/or intimidation when you have the judge in the case's family investigated? For a casual conversation at a restaurant?

Howard Fischer: And that's really where I think it's going to be interesting. I think at the end of this, judge snow refers this to another judge on the criminal charge because he is in some ways a witness to this and that's where the criminal charges are going to come up, and that's where I think that you could see sheriff joe wondering if he's going to be wearing pink underwear or whatever the federal equivalent is.

Ted Simons: Reverse question here. How much of a case does Arpaio and his group have in that maybe the judge shouldn't have been overseeing this? Maybe the judge did have something. After all, he's out to get him to lose the election.

Howard Fischer: The interesting thing is, you know, since the judge didn't know theoretically, I realize there were some new times articles, but the judge didn't know until he questioned Arpaio that joe was the one whose attorney ordered this, I didn't hear a motion to disqualify the judge or a mistrial or whatever the federal equivalent would be so I don't know whether you can come in now and say this judge was biased against us all the time. The moment that testimony came up, somebody should have made a motion to say let's put a halt to this and send it up to another judge.

Mike Sunnucks: I think you'll hear that from Arpaio and the conservative folks that support him, that the U.S. justice department doesn't like how he acts on immigration and law and order issues and they're out to get him. The federal judiciary, you saw this with him and Andy Thomas's fight here are bent against him and his agenda and who he is and there's a vendetta against him. Here's that.

Howard Fischer: It goes directly to the president. Remember he sued the president over the expansion of the DREAMers program. So clearly, I want you to know that Barack is in Washington saying get this guy out.

Ted Simons: It reminds me a little bit of the way the county operated in the past. You find every judge you can, and start investigating them because when they have a proceeding over you, you say conflict, you can't handle this.

Ben Giles: It's a backwards way to cover yourself and that speaks to how many different hearings, how many contempt hearings is joe going to have to go through? How long is he going to be in court and how is this going to impact in 2016 when he's running for office?

Ted Simons: Let's get to the next campaign. Do the Republicans find someone? Do they gently tell him go away?

Howard Fischer: I think one of the possibilities is there was a plea agreement but that joe retires in exchange for not being prosecuted perhaps so there will be no sheriff joe on the campaign trail in 2016. If he somehow is and if this case is still continuing, daily headlines, I think the party quietly finds someone to say look, joe, you can't do this and if you do, we're going to back someone else.

Ted Simons: That someone better be a someone because they're going to be going up against Joe Arpaio.

Mike Sunnucks: The past history hasn't proven that. We haven't had the political leadership from McCain or past governors or leadership or the business community to step forward. We've never done that yet. Now, things could change, but joe still raises more money than everybody else in the state. He still gets a lot of checks from a lot of seniors and older folks throughout the country who support his law and order anti-immigrant stances and he still has a lot of political backing.

Howard Fischer: I'll give you a perfect example occurring today. We ran into the governor and said first question: Are you sorry you endorsed sheriff joe? Well, you know, this thing is still playing out and I don't want to do anything and then the follow-up question, are you sorry sheriff joe endorsed you? And he relied on that. Well, you know, Maricopa county is a lot safer because of sheriff joe so even with all this stuff going on, this afternoon, this governor was hesitant to put any distance.

Ted Simons: Any Republicans coming out and saying this is not good, I don't like what I'm hearing, this is bad, boo?

Ben Giles: Have you heard anything? Not a peep.

Mike Sunnucks: You'll hear business folks and the moderate Republicans talk about this, he's part of our state's image. If you check out the Washington Post, there's stories about this. So he's part of the image of Arizona and a lot of them don't like that but there's a good chance that he could win re-election again. A democrat's not going to win sheriff's office. It's a law and order race, it's going to be very hard for a democrat to win. You have to find somebody in the primary to run against him and frankly, there's not a lot of high-profile law and order people here. The police department chiefs, there's not a lot of people that step forward.

Ted Simons: Flash prediction. Is Joe Arpaio the sheriff two years from now?

Howard Fischer: Two years from now? No.

Ted Simons: What do you think?

Ben Giles: Yes.

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah.
Ted Simons: Let's keep it moving here. You mentioned the governor. The governor surprised some folks and this is a story that you broke here regarding same-sex couples and adopting kids and everyone thought it was going to go one way. Went the exact opposite.

Ben Giles: Yeah. In February attorney general mark Brnovich and his office advised the department of child safety that the U.S. Supreme Court is going to hear some same-sex marriage cases. You've been issuing joint foster and adoption licenses to gay couples, to gay married couples. We think you should stop doing that. We want to wait and see what the U.S. Supreme Court does. From about November to February they've been issuing those joint licenses same as they would to a husband and wife. They stopped doing that at the advice of the attorney general, and when we called the governor's office on Wednesday, they said this is the first we've heard of it and about four hours later there was a statement from the governor instructing the department, there's 17,000 kids under your care. If there's a loving two-parent family home that wants to bring one of these kids in, we should let them do it.

Howard Fischer: And what's fascinating about the governor, finding out and his current director not telling him is two or three weeks earlier the governor made some very vocal statements saying virtually the same thing. I don't care about the sexual preference of the parents. I want loving homes. Well, greg McKay was appointed like six days after the advice that came down from the attorney general. At some point it should have occurred to him. Maybe I ought to tell the governor what the heck I'm doing here. And when we asked the governor about it today, it was sort of a well, I dealt with it as soon as I knew but why don't you know? Does that suggest a communication problem with your hand-picked director?

Ben Giles: Those are questions that no one is answering right now. We asked the spokesman for the department of child safety today why didn't greg McKay alert the governor to this and they said we've had it under review since February, we're not going to talk about the review because that information is protected by attorney-client privilege. We asked the governor the same thing. He won't talk about it but you know he did mention he was trying to bring this up to the governor's staff in January when this was being cooked up, when this opinion was being discussed, and then in February it was former director Charles Flanagan.

Ted Simons: Talk about the timing of this. Is there coincidence?

Howard Fischer: No, I think Flanagan was on his way out anyway but that's part of the chicken and egg effect. November, dcs amends its policy and says you're married, you're married. Despite what it says in the adoption laws about a man and a woman may jointly adopt. Goes on like that until February 4th, I guess Flanagan had requested some legal advice and then the department changes the policy. Flanagan is basically, you know, was not talking to the governor at that point anymore. They were going to fire and demission him, so they weren't communicating. McKay comes in, he's got everything else to deal, with new deputy director, we'll talk about her in a minute, new staff. I don't think it was high on his horizon. But again, at the point that the governor, he made front page headlines about adoption of gays, I don't know what the hell McKay was thinking.

Ben Giles: That's the other distinction, too. What was prompting this? Who was asking for this? Because Flanagan has said I didn't ask Brnovich for this memo. It was being talked about and it had been talked about since the October court ruling, that said the gay marriage ban in Arizona is unconstitutional, and Flanagan in consultation with former attorney general tom Horne said we're going to issue these licenses.

Ted Simons: Governor says we need more adoptions in Arizona, not less, all loving families should be allowed to adopt. Some people are surprised by that.

Mike Sunnucks: I think, especially some people that are on the opposite side of the political spectrum from the governor, they expect him to act like a certain type of social conservative. He certainly has sided on abortion and issues like that. But he is not as dogmatic as people think and when the ruling came out, he was the last one to respond to that. I think that he also, 1062 is still in the mirror for a lot of folks in the state and we don't want to come across as intolerant. And 56% of voters here are okay with same-sex marriage, it's even higher for adoptions. So the country is changing, and I think that's changing the Republican party also.

Howard Fischer: There are two other quick factors. Number one, the governor's wife is very active as a child advocate and he was adopted by his step-father. He's got some inkling, while it's not your typical out of home placement, he understands.

Ted Simons: Very true. Before we get out of here now let's stay with dcs. What is going on over there?

Howard Fischer: Well, what's not going on over there? Well, one of the interesting things is they brought in Vicky Mayo and normally, a director chooses his own director. It was the governor who chose her, had some expertise in child advocacy and brought her in there. Two and a half months later, she's gone, got a job at des, and she's not talking. She's still working for the state, I can't help but believe that maybe after two and a half months of working with Greg McKay who sees things as a cop, maybe she decides this isn't where she wants to be.

Mike Sunnucks: We talked about this last year, whether just moving into the new offices and having private offices is going to solve any of the problems, and I think we're seeing some of that here with the agency. Obviously, with the culture over there.

Ted Simons: Is this damaging or is it creative upheaval? [ Laughter ]

Howard Fischer: I like that.

Ben Giles: It's finding the right place for the right people. But that's an interesting strategy, why not find the right people for the place where you need them right now? Because dcs has been in turmoil for years. It needs good people, it needs a strong director, and Ducey said McKay is my guy but to bring someone in and then two and a half months later say they're great, I just think they'll be better over here.

Howard Fischer: They'll be greater over here.

Ben Giles: You need people in dcs right now because that's the agency that's in so much trouble.

Ted Simons: So last point, we've got problem manager dismissed, people coming in to save the day only two and a half months later they're going off to some completely different job. What about the children?

Howard Fischer: On the one hand, you could say that look when I talk to the architect of the whole agency, she said look, I expected some program managers to be fired, you just moved folks over. As far as the rest of the stuff going on, I've got to admit that when you're starting to worry about a dress code and what women's shoes look like, people are wondering who's paying attention to the prime directive of the agency?

Ted Simons: All right, we will continue to pay attention to this story. Great job guys. Good to have you all here.

Ted Simons: Monday on "Arizona Horizon." Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton joins us to discuss a variety of city issues.

Ted Simons: And we'll recognize financial literacy month with some financial tips. That's Monday at 5:30 and 10:00 on "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thanks so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

Mike Sunnucks:Journalist, Phoenix Business Journal; Howard Fischer:Journalist, Capitol Media Services; Ben Giles:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times;

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