Coordinated Vendetta Attacks Pima County Prosecutor Laura Conover

Pima County Attorney Laura Conover is the target of an organized right-wing attack that aims to defeat her run for re-election. Her attackers include the former “war on drugs” County Attorney, an ex-staffer with a grudge and a MAGA think tank.

● Ex-County Attorney Barbara Lawall wrote a misinformation-packed editorial against Conover in the April 24 Daily Star, nitpicking various prosecutorial decisions. When in office, Lawall notoriously pursued the failed “war on drugs,” prosecuting young people for possession of tiny amounts of street drugs and sending them to prison. Conover ended the harsh policy.

● Disgruntled ex-deputy attorney David Berkman of Oro Valley has flooded the County Attorney’s office with records requests, filed attorney bar charges that went nowhere, and written multiple attacks in letters to the editor. Berkman worked for Lawall, and his attacks began just after Conover took office on January 1, 2021.

● Austin VanDerHeyden of the pro-MAGA, right-wing Goldwater Institute wrote a screed against Conover in the May 1 Daily Star. VanDerHeyden worked earlier for the violent Pro-Trump Turning Point USA organization. The Goldwater Institute files “anti-woke” lawsuits and campaigns to drain funds from public schools, attack diversity, equity and inclusion programs, and undermine programs to help homeless people.

Mike Jette

Vendetta supports “Democratic” candidate who is actually a Republican.

Their combined onslaught is designed to elect Mark Jette, a Republican who ran for County Attorney in 2012. Jette only became a Democrat in 2020 and has been absent in Democratic politics. Jette lied at a debate in Green Valley on April 27, falsely claiming, “I have been a Democrat my entire life.”

Jette has campaigned on right-wing talk radio with hosts like MAGA-loving Chris DeSimone and Republican Bruce Ash, a one-time national committeeman of the Arizona Republican Party. Many of Jette’s major donors are Republicans.

Lawall is no stranger to controversy

When Lawall was county attorney, she faced criticism for prosecuting easy-to-win drug cases that artificially boosted the office’s conviction rate. Conover ended this draconian practice.

In 2019, Pima County Public Defender Joel Fineman called out Lawall for advocating prison as opposed to treatment deflection programs for minor drug cases.

In a memo to county officials, Feinman said that during the 2017-18 fiscal year, 36% of the county attorney’s felony case filings were for drug charges, the highest percentage of any type of felony. Of the 2,166 felony drug cases filed during that period, 53% involved less than one gram of drugs [the weight of a paperclip] and 70% were less than two grams, according to the memo.

The memo said that the statistics accounted for all felony drug cases, including possession, trafficking, and sales charges.

Barbara Lawall

Furthermore, Lawall was notorious for blowing $12,200 in public funds for 31 trips that took her out of the office for up to 16 days. The trips amounted to more than 100 days for crime-talk junkets to London, Vancouver, Washington, D.C., Florida, San Francisco and Monterey.

One trip included $107 in public funds for a rental car that she drove just 25 miles. The most expensive trip, at $1,196, was for a five-day trip to a district attorneys’ conference in Washington, D.C.

The worst scandal involved Lawall promoting Ken Peasley to Chief Criminal Deputy. Peasley was a superstar in Lawall’s office until he was disbarred in 2004 for allowing a Tucson police detective, Joe Godoy, to lie while testifying in two capital murder trials. A state bar Disciplinary Commission found that Peasley elicited false testimony in the 1993 trial and again in a 1997 retrial.

Berkman’s three-year vendetta

Disgruntled ex-prosecutor David Berkman has pursued a fruitless vendetta against Conover for three and ½ years. His compulsive, grudge-driven campaign has two tracks:

Ex-prosecutor David Berkman
  • A failed 22-count state bar complaint that ended with no finding of wrongdoing by Conover on March 15. The case involved a comment Conover made on Facebook before she was elected. In the end, the state bar dismissed Berkman’s charges in March 2024, and Conover agreed to watch a video on YouTube about ethics. Berkman filed the case in 2021, bloviating in letters to the editor about unproven “false statements” as it proceeded. Conover said the charges proved to be an unsuccessful attempt at a political distraction.
  • Bombarding the County Attorney with record requests for emails, texts, audio and video. Berkman is responsible for almost 10% of the 400 public records requests the County Attorney gets in a year. Many requests create a huge time burden because the office must review each request to protect personally identifiable information and review to protect attorney-client information, attorney work product, and other confidential records.

“When a single Pima County resident is responsible for 10% of the requests to our office, it borders on an abuse of the public records system for which all Pima County residents pay in time, resources, and money,” Conover said.

Last August, Conover asked the Pima County Supervisors to charge an hourly fee to cover the cost of records requests. Berkman displayed a massive sense of self-importance, and complained that the request was targeted at him.

Anti-woke Goldwater Institute

Austin VanDerHeyden

Right on cue, pro-MAGA Goldwater Institute henchman Austin VanDerHeyden wrote a screed against Conover in the May 1 Daily Star, falsely shrieking that “violent crime is skyrocketing in Pima County.”

The Tucson Police Department reported in January 2024 that the city saw a decrease of 13% in violent crimes compared to 2022 and a decrease of 9% compared to the 5-year average. The department’s Homicide Detective Unit successfully solved 90% of the investigations assigned to it.

Before Conover took office (when Lawall was the top prosecutor), Tucson homicide rates reached a 20-year high in 2020. Aggravated assaults increased by 17% in Tucson from 2019 to 2020. Tucson Police Department recorded a total of 50 homicides in 2020.

The Goldwater Institute harangue cited familiar themes used by Lawall and Berkman about “setting criminals free,” “ignoring crimes,” and the county’s “criminal justice system is a complete failure.”

The Goldwater Institute is a right-wing advocacy group based in Phoenix. It has ties to the Koch organization and is a member of the State Policy Network, a web of state pressure groups that drive a right-wing agenda in statehouses nationwide.

The Institute advocates against “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) programs, battles gun safety laws, and fights efforts to limit budget-breaking school vouchers (ESAs) in Arizona schools. It even went to court to defend the right of a voter to wear a Tea Party T-shirt to the polls in Flagstaff.

Out of the blue, it attacked a candidate in a local election. Coincidence?

Lou Spivack, a 29-year veteran prosecutor

“I worked for LaWall; I stand with Conover.”

Lou Spivack is a 29-year veteran prosecutor in the Pima County Attorney’s Office who supervised three of the office’s largest divisions. He endorsed Conover and rebuffed Lawall and Berkman.

“What they want you to believe is a damning scandal is actually in regard to a Facebook comment made before she was an elected official. Ms. Conover had to watch a recorded class on YouTube, and when she turned in her participation certificate, the State Bar immediately dismissed the entire case,” he said.

“I’m not sure why the past administration is so obsessed with Conover,” Spivack said. “But I stand with the rest of the community: I want to go forward and continue to build with Conover. I don’t want to go back to the LaWall administration. A changing of the guard was needed in 2020 and we need to continue to move forward with Laura in 2024.”

5 thoughts on “Coordinated Vendetta Attacks Pima County Prosecutor Laura Conover”

  1. Larry Bodine’s attacks on me are not warranted and untrue.First of all I am not a disgruntled former employee. I was chief criminal deputy for seven years and retired in 2017.I came back to help out in 2020 and was going to leave the office whoever won.In fairness to Mr. Bodine he probably believed Ms Conover’s false narrative that I wanted to continuing working but she said no. A total fabrication.
    My public records requests were made to uncover Conover’s misconduct.She fought me tooth and nail , I filed a lawsuit which I won and uncovered her misconduct.I reported her misconduct in the Taylor civil and criminal case and the Bar found clear and convincing evidence of her misconduct. Conover’s story about the Bar charge being no big deal and about a Facebook post is totally false. Unfortunately, Mr. Bodine has swallowed Conover’s falsehoods hook, line, and sinker. His misrepresentations are unfortunate because the Pima County Attorney’s Office is falling apart . The criminal division is down to 25 lawyers from almost 60. Conover has no clue how to run a prosecutor’s office. Cops are frustrated and victims are furious.

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  2. In my defense my public records requests were ignored and I had to file a lawsuit which I won. The records revealed significant misconduct by Conover.
    The Bar charge did not go nowhere. The Bar took appropriate action in making her take a course in ethics.
    The Bar diversion agreement states her misconduct involved lack of diligence, ER 1.3 conflicts of interest, and ER 8.4(d) conduct in violation of interest of justice. Conover misrepresents the nature of her misconduct.. this was not about a Facebook post.
    I am sure she chose diversion rather than face a Bar charge in which she would not have a viable defense..
    Perhaps in the spirit of transparency Ms. Conover would reveal everything concerning the Bar charge. I would welcome it.

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  3. Your opinions read like those of someone who has no idea what’s happening in the county attorney’s office. It is in free fall. About half of the prosecutors have left because of mismanagement leaving the rest to barely keep their heads above water. More are about to leave. Integrity, transparency and honesty are lacking in the leadership. That’s why every one of the people conover brought in with her left. As to the bar complaint, if it is really true that the diversion requirement was over a Facebook post (highly doubtful) conover could erase any doubt by releasing the bar’s findings of her misconduct. Spivack was merely parroting what he got from conover. Instead of blindly accepting that the state bar found sufficient evidence of an ethical violation in a social media post to sanction her, why don’t you ask her to read the bar’s actual finding. I supported conover in her first election. She has proven unable to manage the office and the budget. There has been a mass exodus of employees. She denies that but counting is simple. Lawall and Berkman are hardly right wing but the election is not about them. It’s about someone who has been given the chance to show we can move forward and has failed miserably

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  4. For too long it’s been ingrained into the voting public that the only credible County Attorney candidates are former prosecutors, some who have been known to unethically stack the deck against criminal defendants.

    It’s nice to see that Laura Conover successfully upending that fallacy which has been resulting in decreased crime rates. She definitely has my vote!

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  5. Thank you for writing this article. Right wing ideologues are the worst people. Conover is a very good and intelligent person. She is the best candidate for this office.

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