Arizona Is Calling All Topless Lawyer Wannabes

Colorado is tougher on unlicensed hairdressers than Arizona is on unlicensed attorneys.

Colorado must be a very conscientious state. In Colorado, Suzette Hall was arrested for suspicion of practicing cosmetology without a license. I am assuming it is because she was practicing her craft sans a trendy burnout tee from the Sundance Catalog; or a shirt of any kind. Whether toplessness constitutes reasonable suspicion to believe that one does not have a license to practice one’s chosen profession in Colorado, much less probable cause for an arrest, I will leave to the authorities in Colorado.

By contrast, you cannot get arrested in Arizona for practicing law without a license, clothed or otherwise. Since we have had a multitude of topless demonstrations in Tempe and Phoenix in the recent past, I think it might be safe to say that Ms. Hall could have declared herself a topless lawyer in Arizona without fear of arrest.

Foolishly, I thought I would have to have a license in Arizona to call myself a lawyer in Arizona state court. I paid in excess of $2000 and went through a rigorous criminal and character background investigation lasting 6 months to get my Arizona law license. But it turns out that everybody, including the trial courts in the county with the biggest glut of death penalty cases Arizona has ever seen, can and did call whoever they wanted to a lawyer, with no criminal or other penalty whatsoever.

This is in stark contrast to Texas, known as that other crazy, red, Wild West state. I have been licensed to practice law in Texas for 20 years. It is a third degree felony to practice law without a license and get paid to do so, punishable by two to ten years in prison. In Arizona, it is a violation of Arizona State Bar Rules, but it is not a crime.

The reason it is not illegal to practice law without a license in Arizona is because a real estate agent was once convicted of practicing law without a license in the 1960s. This is all discussed at length in a 2002 law review article by law professor Jonathan Rose entitled: ?Unauthorized Practice of Law: A Legal and Political Problem That Won?t Go Away.? Because realtors lobbied the legislature, the statute criminalizing the unauthorized practice of law in Arizona went away in the eighties. It has not been a crime to practice law without a license in Arizona since 1984. You cannot even get the equivalent of a parking ticket for doing it.

When my husband moved us from Austin, Texas, to Scottsdale, Arizona, in August 2011, I had a lot of trepidation about coming here. Maricopa County’s reputation for lawless insanity precedes it. County Attorney Andrew Thomas, the equivalent of the district attorney in other jurisdictions, was being disbarred for charging other public officials with nonexistent crimes when we got to Arizona. Sheriff Joe Arpaio has now been found by a federal court to have violated the civil rights of scores of Hispanics. I knew that Arizona was a dicey place when it comes to federal Constitutional rights. I also knew that, despite having two criminal board certifications in Texas, I was going to have to start all over again in Arizona.

What happened next was so much worse than I expected.

I had a lovely interview with two female lawyers and the ?capital staff attorney? in early 2012. All seemed to go well, until the very end of the interview, when I was asked if I minded working with a ?paralegal.? I said no, of course not. It turned out that the paralegal they were referring to was the other Capital Staff Attorney, Diane Alessi.

I later received a confusing e-mail from the Presiding Criminal Judge, Douglas Rayes. He referred to Diane as a ?great lawyer and a wonderful person.? In my opinion, he was wrong on both counts.

There is not much worse than working with a jealous, competitive, non-collegial wannabe. I’ll spare everyone the gory details, but I went along with what I thought was a bizarre arrangement to begin with until I no longer could. Arizona Capital Staff Attorneys advise trial judges statewide on the law in death penalty cases. They write proposed orders and legal memoranda. I began to discover that some of the judges had no idea Diane was not a lawyer. In addition, a number of the judges were highly dependent upon us to tell them what the law is.

Maricopa County rotates its judges through four areas of practice, just one of which is criminal law. I was asked some surprisingly basic criminal law questions during my short tenure there. How could these judges have known that someone authorized by Court Administration to call themselves an ?attorney? was not licensed to practice law anywhere? Diane surrendered her bar card in Oregon in 1999. Yet, as of 2012, she was a working “attorney” in Arizona. For five years Diane advised judges statewide in a multitude of death penalty cases. The disbarred county attorney, Andrew Thomas, had 149 death penalty cases pending in Maricopa County alone. It was a busy time.

In one instance, a judge asking a question was so confused and confusing that I asked Diane, “What does she want?” Diane replied, “She wants me to make the decision for her.”

Then the thing I could not overlook finally happened: A grant request slid across my desk, drafted by Diane, asking the Arizona Supreme Court to give us a raise because:

The two staff attorneys currently funded by this grant each have extensive experience in capital litigation and have spent their entire legal careers specializing in criminal law.

The grant request referred to us at all times as attorneys, criminal attorneys, and criminal specialists. A distinction was made between “attorneys” and mere “law clerks.” The word ?specialist? is a legal term of art that refers to an individual who is board certified in a legal specialty. I chaired the Criminal Law Exam Commission in Texas, but I am not board certified in criminal law in Arizona. And I had never been a party to a fraud on a court in my entire career. My reputation in Texas was one of scrupulous honesty to the tribunal, any tribunal. Diane had previously told me, more than once, that we had the ?same credentials.? I never knew before I saw the grant request whether she actually believed that or not.

I ran the grant request by a judge I was friendly with in the office next to mine. He confirmed what I thought, that it was a grant fraud, and that I had to call the Arizona Bar Ethics Hotline and ask them what to do next. I made the call, and I was told I had to report this matter to the Bar. I did.

I later found out that the Bar called my supervisor, Court Administrator and attorney Karen Westover, the same day I reported the grant fraud and unauthorized practice of law. Karen took me for a ride in her personal vehicle and asked me if I had reported Diane to the bar, without telling me that the bar had already contacted Karen. I did not lie. Three business days later, Judge Rayes called me into his office and forced me to resign effective immediately.

Judge Rayes is now a nominee for a vacant federal court bench in Arizona, so illegally terminating me has had zero adverse impact on his career. In a ?Right to Work? state, you can fire a person for any reason or no reason at all. What you cannot do is fire them for an illegal reason; like blowing the whistle on grant fraud. I, on the other hand, have not worked as an attorney in Arizona since, despite being the one person in this entire mess who told the truth or did what was legally required of me.

While that was bad enough, what happened next shocked me even more.

I reported the grant fraud to the Maricopa County Attorney, Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court Rebecca White Berch (formerly an Associate and Partner at McGroder, Tryon, Heller, Rayes & Berch), as well as the FBI, in case the grant funds were federal. I do not want to go to federal prison for failing to report a federal crime, which is itself a federal crime.

Communications with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office yielded the expected nothing. The FBI said I had acquitted myself of my duty to report a potential federal crime. But then I got an oddly worded letter from the Arizona Supreme Court’s Chief Staff Attorney, Ellen Crowley, who said:

?With respect to your concern about the CPAF [Case Processing Assistance Fund] Grant Funds, I note that the [grant] application you attached to your letter is unsigned and does not indicate where (or whether) it was actually filed.

This answer shocked me because the signed and file-stamped original was on file with . . . drum roll please . . . the Arizona Supreme Court.

The Administrative Office of the Courts, which the Chief Justice oversees, took swift action. They changed the parameters of the projects for which CPAF Grant Funds can be used to include the ?Arizona Capital Law Clerks Assistance Project,? and changed Diane’s title to, ?Capital Litigation Law Clerk.? She got her raise and she still has her job. Like magic, a reverse ex post facto cover-up happened.

Almost a year after I reported what I believed to be a crime against the People of Arizona, the State Bar of Arizona entered into an unpublished ?Consent Decree? against Diane Alessi, in which she admits to having committed certain prohibited acts, generally denies everything else, and agrees to forever more refrain from engaging in the unauthorized practice of law or using a title that would lead a person to believe she is, in fact, an attorney. Since she is not a member of the State Bar, this decree is not confidential. But it was also not made public by publication on the Arizona State Bar website.

Diane’s defense in the beginning was that (1) her employers allowed her to use this title, which is absolutely true; and (2) she never told anyone she was a licensed attorney, as opposed to the other kind. I hope we have not gotten to the point in this world where it is legal to claim to be a surgeon or an airline pilot, as long as you omit the word, ?licensed.? Diane used to be an attorney, and even though it was more than a decade ago, she should have known better. None of her co-conspirators in perpetrating this fraud were in any way disciplined or prosecuted. Diane took a rubber bullet for the whole team.

Judge Rayes, for his part, did a 180 degree about-face from the e-mail he sent to me, acting like he barely knew Diane in a letter which Diane’s attorney forwarded to the Arizona State Bar:

My duties as Presiding Criminal Judge for the Arizona Superior Court, Maricopa County, require that I work with Ms. Alessi.

He went on to say he had no idea how anybody outside of the judiciary would get the idea that Diane was an attorney ? forget that the judges themselves might be misled by what used to appear on the Arizona Supreme Court’s website. Or that Diane spoke at continuing legal education programs for judges who had just rotated into criminal law and attorneys using the title ?Capital Staff Attorney.? Or that she co-authored papers with judges using the title, ?Capital Staff Attorney.? Or that she is referred to in the minutes of a meeting of the Arizona Supreme Court Capital Oversight Committee, which is composed of people who are not all judges, as the Capital Staff Attorney. Or in court orders that went to the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco and beyond, which are all public documents, wherein she was listed as ?Diane Alessi, Capital Case Staff Attorney, Arizona Death Penalty Judicial Assistance Program.? And forget that all of these materials can be found on the Internet by anybody on planet Earth.

I think it bears repeating that Judge Rayes is on the fast track to becoming a federal judge in Arizona. I requested his assistance with the problem I seem to be having getting another job in my field in Arizona. So far, I have received no response. As in zero. But his dishonesty, coupled with his completely implausible cover story, leads me to believe he does not have the intellectual or moral acuity to do that job. And by that I do not mean that he is not intelligent. Just that he does not possess that very high level of intellect and character one would expect with a judge with that kind of lifetime-tenured power.

In summary, there is no need to settle for being an incarcerated non-licensed topless hairdresser in Colorado, when you can be a non-licensed attorney in Arizona with no fear of arrest or conviction, making $72,000 a year on the taxpayer’s dime. If anybody is foolish enough to turn you in, out of some misplaced sense of ethical obligation or pride in their chosen profession, or a desire not to go to prison for being an unwilling co-conspirator to grant fraud, the whistleblower will be terminated from their job and never work again. Other actual lawyers, including the state Supreme Court and a federal judicial nominee, will cover for you. The State Bar will slap you on the hand. And scores of people will even be legally executed based upon years of legal advice you were not licensed to give.

As a lawyer friend of mine once said about her own upward mobility from Cajun teenager living in the sticks to Harvard educated lawyer:

?Isn’t America a great country?

Only in Republican America, in states run by the Republican right, can a non-licensed topless hairdresser from Colorado theoretically aspire to be a non-licensed attorney in Arizona. Every one of the people involved in what happened to me, except possibly Diane herself, is a Republican. If you are licensed to practice law, but are banned for life by the SEC and under investigation by the feds; as well as disposed to hiring extramarital lovers whose law licenses have been suspended for attorney positions, or have other girlfriends running your allegedly independent PAC; and are spotted by the Feds committing a hit and run after a nooner with a possible temporarily topless lawyer: You can even be Arizona Attorney General. Your dream can be as big as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, just as long as you are not doing the right thing.


Edited by SS