AZ SB 1071: Right to Petition or Special Interest Corruption?

Flag_of_Arizona.svgby Gene Howington

Arizona seems to get in the news quite a bit as of late and it is rarely flattering. This time it is a bill being sponsored to specifically benefit one person. SB 1071 is moving quickly through the state Legislature. It would cap how much counties can charge for recording certain property deeds. Supporters of the bill have said it would protect future buyers of tax liens from excessive fees but that is simply window dressing to make the law more palatable. In reality, the bill works to the benefit of one man and his real estate investment company: Phoenix area attorney Wayne Howard and Sonoran Land Fund LLC.

Howard’s company acquires some property via purchasing tax liens. The way this works in Arizona is that property owners who do not pay their taxes have a lien placed on the property that prevents them from selling it until they have paid their taxes. After three years, the tax lien can be purchased by third parties. The owners of the lien may then initiate foreclosure proceedings if the landowner does not pay what they owe plus penalties. If the third party obtains a court-ordered judgment on the foreclosure, the third party is then required to obtain a deed transferring the property from the debtor to the third party. The fee for the issuance of each deed is $50 according to state law.  Seems pretty straight forward. If you purchase tax liens, the $50 cost of registering new deeds upon foreclosure is simply a cost of doing business.  Right?  On a per parcel level and considering the profits possible from such investments, at scale it is a minimal transactional cost. The profit on one parcel could potentially offset the entire cost. In fact, a breakdown of the actual cost to process said deeds amounts to $97 per deed. Seems like a fee of $50 is more than fair enough considering there is actual costs to the work to be done issuing and recording new deeds and those costs exceed the fee by almost 100%.

Apparently not fair enough if you’re Wayne Howard.

Sonoran Land Fund LLC recently applied for recording new deeds on 2,922 parcels property.  The resulting bill for recording said deeds totaled $146,100. Howard sought a waiver of a $50-per-parcel charge and requested Pinal County bill him a total of $50 for all 2,922 properties. The county naturally rejected the request. Howard, not one to let complying with a law everyone else in the state has to comply with, threatened to get the fee reduced another way. According to Pinal County Treasurer Dolores “Dodie” Doolittle, Howard said, “He said he would go and get the law changed. That’s what he’s trying to do.”

Sonoran Land Fund LLC hired lobbyist Stan Barnes to get the ball rolling. This resulted in what would be known as SB 1071 being sponsored by state Sen. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa). The bill (among other things) seeks to cap the charges on this kind of bulk deed work at $500. Currently awaiting vote in the House, SB 1071 passed the Senate in February with minimal effort. The bill has met with opposition.  According to

The bill is opposed by at least six county treasurers in the state. It is supported by Howard’s company, southern and central Arizona homebuilders associations and the Arizona Association of Realtors.

Supporters’ testimony focuses on cutting costs for future buyers of tax liens. But county treasurers say the circumstances occur so rarely that Howard is the only person who benefits. They say their research shows only a few cases in Arizona history in which hundreds of tax liens have been purchased at the same time.

They also say the bill’s provisions are written specifically for Howard, including a retroactive clause that would apply only to Howard’s 2,922 parcels.

The bill would cover anyone who already has obtained foreclosure judgments and has not yet obtained a treasurer’s deed. That precisely fits Howard’s circumstances, said Jen Marson, executive director of the state counties association.

“It’s like the county saying, ‘We appreciate you investing in our county, sir. So we’re going to give you a 99 percent discount,’ ” Marson said. “County government is not like shopping at Costco. We have no economy of scale.”

Any suggestion that the bill would benefit anyone other than Howard is “wordsmithing” to make the bill publicly palatable, Marson said.

Records show beginning in 2011, Howard purchased tax liens for parcels of a failed subdivision called Desert Carmel west of Casa Grande. The subdivision is next to the Francisco Grande Hotel and Resort and was planned around the site of the San Francisco Giants’ old spring-training facility.

Records show Howard’s company paid about $865,000 for the tax liens, an average of $296 per parcel.

Marson said there was no stated reason for the $500 cap when the legislation was introduced. She said county officials offered a $25,000 compromise but it was rejected by the bill’s originators.

“They said no, even though they admitted their $500 number was arbitrarily submitted,” Marson said.

County treasurers said the $50 transfer fee for each deed was not arbitrary. They said that amount only covers about half of the actual costs associated with processing deeds and transferring the title.

What is perhaps most distressing is that under a cost-benefit analysis, apparently it is more cost effective to hire a lobbyist and try to get a law changed to specifically financially benefit an individual in a rare circumstance than it is to pay the $146,100 on what seems to already be a deeply discounted transaction.

Is this an example of the Right to Petition being fairly exercised or an example of how money corrupts the system and undermines the Rule of Law?

What do you think?


About Gene Howington

I write and do other stuff.
This entry was posted in Arizona, Constitutional Law, Corruption, Democracy, Investing, Justice, Local Government, United States and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to AZ SB 1071: Right to Petition or Special Interest Corruption?

  1. Anonymously Yours says:

    I hope the deed bill fails and the Mr Potters of the world have to pay just like everyone else.

  2. randyjet says:

    I hope the bill passes. The taxpayers of AZ will deserve what they get when they vote GOP. The whole point of the GOP is to make the ordinary folks pay to make the rich richer and to tax the ordinary folks to make that happen. Maybe this will wake up some of the dumb folks who vote GOP, though given the state of Texas, that has not happened yet. It seems that while ignorance can be cured, stupid is incurable..

  3. pete says:

    Politicians are cheaper than tax bills. A couple of tickets to Vegas and some Wayne Newton tickets for the bills sponsors and Arizona’s got themselves a brand new law.

  4. rafflaw says:

    I agree with randyjet that Arizona deserves this kind of crap. How much money did this arrogant SOB pay a lobbyist and how much money did he “donate” to the state politician who sponsored the bill? Follow the money.

  5. It almost has to be less than $146,100 in toto, raff.
    Seems awfully cheap to me.

  6. Mike Spindell says:

    The last time I was in Arizona was in 1975. At the time with the exception of Phoenix and Albuquerque (which looked like the same bleak place it does in Breaking Bad)they were building huge tracts of suburbs. The housing tracts had been advertised on TV all over the country, but as yet no building had occurred and to me they looked like scrub desert, which I find ugly. Now Arizona has built up all those tracts and it has become a retirement center in a former desert. The states’ prosperity was built on land development and so it is little surprise that the developers and their ancillary partners in the industry (banks, brokers, builders, etc.) are the political powers in the State. Another sad example of capital overwhelming the needs of ordinary people.

  7. bettykath says:

    Mike, fyi, Albuquerque is in New Mexico, not Arizona. 🙂

  8. bettykath says:

    At least you didn’t put Albuquerque in Mexico, like the NYTimes!

    The Innocence Project has tried to save Willingham, but failed. The best they can do at this point is try for accountability for his death.

    In a major turn in one of the country’s most-noted death penalty cases, the State Bar of Texas has filed a formal accusation of misconduct against the county prosecutor who convicted Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man executed in 2004 for the arson murder of his three young daughters.

    Following a preliminary inquiry that began last summer, the bar this month filed a disciplinary petition in Navarro County District Court accusing the former prosecutor, John H. Jackson, of obstruction of justice, making false statements and concealing evidence favorable to Willingham’s defense.

    “Before, during, and after the 1992 trial, [Jackson] knew of the existence of evidence that tended to negate the guilt of Willingham and failed to disclose that evidence to defense counsel,” the bar investigators charged.

    The bar action was filed March 5 without any public announcement. It accuses Jackson of having intervened repeatedly to help a jailhouse informant, Johnny E. Webb, in return for his testimony that Willingham confessed the murders to him while they were both jailed in Corsicana, the Navarro county seat.

    Webb has since recanted that testimony. In a series of recent interviews, he told The Marshall Project that Jackson coerced him to lie, threatening a long prison term for a robbery Webb had committed but promising to reduce his sentence if he testified against Willingham.

    Jackson has repeatedly denied that he made any pre-trial agreement with Webb in exchange for his testimony. The former prosecutor acknowledged that he and others made extraordinary efforts to help Webb, but said they were motivated only by concern for a witness who had been threatened by other prisoners because of his testimony.

    A lawyer for Jackson, Joseph E. Byrne, on Wednesday urged that people withhold judgment about the case until all the evidence was presented and took issue with the grievance filed against his client by the Innocence Project, a legal advocacy group.

    “I disagree with much of the information that was put together by the Innocence Project and do not find it to be objective,” Byrne said.

    From the time of the house fire that killed his children on Dec. 23, 1991, Willingham maintained his innocence. He said he awoke from a nap to find his home engulfed in smoke and flames, and that he could not locate the three toddlers before stumbling outside to seek help. Texas fire examiners concluded that the blaze was an arson, and Jackson later said it was “very likely” that Willingham had poured some accelerant on the floor in the shape of a pentagram, apparently as a symbol of Satanic worship.

    Willingham was executed on Feb. 17, 2004, after Gov. Rick Perry refused to grant a stay requested by Willingham’s lawyers on the basis of a report by an independent arson expert who concluded there was no evidence the fire was intentionally set.

    Five years later, Perry also replaced several members of a Texas state forensic commission that was reviewing the finding of arson. The commission subsequently avoided concluding whether investigators in the Willingham case had been negligent or committed misconduct. At the time, Perry called Willingham “a monster.”

    Relatives and supporters of Willingham have long sought his vindication but have been frustrated by both the courts and the state government. The Innocence Project, which has investigated the case for a decade, sought a posthumous pardon for Willingham and to have his case re-heard by a court of inquiry. Both efforts were unsuccessful.

    In July, the group filed a grievance with the Texas bar accusing Jackson of conduct that “violated his professional, ethical and constitutional obligations” in his handling of the case. That complaint was the basis for the disciplinary petition filed on March 5.

    Told of the state bar’s action, Willingham’s stepmother, Eugenia, said, “John Jackson committed a crime, and I want him punished. Who would have ever thought that all this corruption would happen in small-town America? If the appeals court had known the truth, Todd would probably be alive today.”

    A staff attorney for the Innocence Project, Bryce Benjet, said the group was encouraged by the bar’s disciplinary action. “Withholding exculpatory evidence and the presentation of false testimony in a death penalty case is quite possibly the most serious ethical breach for a lawyer you can imagine,” he said. “The bar is correct in seeking accountability where a prosecutor has clearly abused the public’s trust, and that misconduct resulted in the execution of an innocent man.”

    Byrne, Jackson’s lawyer, said last week that his client would ask to have a jury hear any accusations of misconduct against him, as state bar rules allow. A spokeswoman for the bar said the state supreme court has already appointed a district court judge from Harris County, David D. Farr, to preside over the disciplinary case in Navarro County. Whether a jury will be chosen from the citizens of the county, where Jackson also served as a judge before going into private practice, was unclear.

    The disciplinary petition contends that “Jackson failed to make timely disclosure to the defense details for favorable treatment for Webb, an inmate, in exchange for Webb’s testimony at trial for the State.

    “During a pre-trial hearing on July 24, 1992, (Jackson) told the trial court that he had no evidence favorable to Willingham,” the complaint continues. “That statement was false.”

    The Marshall Project disclosed earlier this month the existence of a letter sent by Webb to Jackson in 1996 asking Jackson to comply with what he called their “agreement” to reduce his judgment from aggravated robbery to robbery. Within a few weeks, Jackson obtained a court order that reduced the charge.

    The petition accuses Jackson of obtaining favorable treatment for Webb that included telling the Navarro County Clerk’s Office to inform the Texas Department of Corrections that Webb was convicted of robbery instead of aggravated robbery even though Webb had pled guilty to aggravated robbery. In addition, Jackson obtained the court order in 1996 that officially changed the judgment to robbery and requested early parole for Webb with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

    When early parole was denied, Jackson signed court orders for Webb so that he could be transferred from prison to the Navarro County Jail.

    The petition accuses Jackson of violating several sections of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct and seeks that he “be disciplined as the facts shall warrant.” Such discipline could range from no discipline to disbarment.

    Jackson is accused of violating rules that prohibit making false statements to a judge as well as obstructing justice. The petition also accuses Jackson of concealing evidence that “a lawyer would reasonably believe has potential or actual evidentiary value.”

    Webb’s testimony will likely be a key part of the state bar’s case against Jackson, as well as letters between Webb and Charles Pearce, a now-deceased Corsicana rancher who funneled several thousand dollars to Webb after the Willingham trial. Webb has said the money was promised to him as part of his agreement with Jackson.

    No date for any hearing on the petition has been scheduled.

    The disciplinary case against Jackson is the third recent one in Texas in which prosecutors have been accused of concealing evidence, making false statements and obstructing justice.

    In 2013, Williamson County District Judge Ken Anderson resigned as a judge and a lawyer and pled no contest to a contempt of court charge for failing to disclose evidence of innocence in the case of Michael Morton, who was exonerated after being wrongly convicted and serving 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife. Anderson was sentenced to 10 days in jail and was released after five days because of good behavior.

    In 2014, the State Bar instituted a disciplinary complaint against Charles Sebesta, prosecutor of Anthony Graves, who was exonerated from death row in Texas in 2010. The complaint, which is being handled privately – as is the choice of the attorney accused – alleged that Sebesta withheld evidence of Graves’s innocence and used perjured testimony to obtain Graves’s conviction.

    • randyjet says:

      As a Texan, I have to say that these cases are more the norm than the exception. I know of many more like this in which the judges, prosecutors, and appeals courts simply refused to follow the law and railroaded innocent persons to death or long prison sentences. It is also why if I am called to jury service, I will never agree to a capital sentence in any case. I will change my stance when the first attorney and/or judge is executed for misconduct in a death penalty case. I will drop my opposition to the death penalty in that case since it will serve a real benefit in the interest of justice and it will be a deterrent to ensure good conduct in the legal profession.

    • Mike Spindell says:

      From BettyKath’s comment:
      “Willingham’s Stepmother said:
      “John Jackson committed a crime, and I want him punished. Who would have ever thought that all this corruption would happen in small-town America? If the appeals court had known the truth, Todd would probably be alive today.”

      Sadly, we seen from Randyjet’s comment, this is all too often the norm in “small town America”. Having watched the HOB show Jinxed about Robert Durst. His acquittal in Texas for the murder and dismemberment of his neighbor on the grounds of self defense was a peculiar happening, except when we learn Durst is worth $100 million. Another reason I have no desire to go to Texas.

      • randyjet says:

        The worst case was the attempted murder trial of T Cullen Davis who murdered his wife’s daughter while during a nasty divorce and shot and almost killed his wife Priscilla. He got off on that charge, and then tried to hire a guy to kill his wife. He was caught on TAPE hiring the guy, then they delivered his wife’s supposedly dead body in the trunk of the hit man’s car, and paying the killer off all on TAPE. He was found not guilty by the jury in Amarillo! T Cullen Davis is one of the wealthiest persons in Texas by the way. So if folks think O.J. got away with something, that AIN’T NOTHIN compared to Texas “justice”

        While the criminal justice system in Texas is basically that of a third world country, the rest of the place is pretty nice since most of the folks here are basically decent folks and do have the virtues of small town America, as well as many of the faults. The climate is what I love too. Warm year round for the most part in southern Texas, and we have the culture of Mexico too. Once we get the GOP out of power, it will be a far better place for all.

        • Mike Spindell says:


          I have no doubt that most Texans are nice people, but then why have they been electing such obviously bad men as G.W. Bush and Rick Perry?

          • randyjet says:

            Mike, The fact is that most Texans do not vote. Those who do, vote their racial affiliation for the most part. Thus whites vote GOP and blacks and Latinos vote Democrat. This comes from the tradition of the old south. You will notice that in places where there are intelligent, informed people such as Austin, Houston, Dallas, Beaumont, etc..they vote Democratic in the main. The rest of Texas though is rural, ill informed, and ignorant for the most part. it is the ignorance which is the main culprit.

  9. bettykath says:

    But OJ paid a huge price for murders committed by someone else.

  10. Carterbo says:

    bettykath – what “huge price” or you referring to?

  11. Anonymously Yours says:


    Actually died with a fraction of his inherited money. He filed bankruptcy list his home and if I recall became a born again Christian.

  12. Mike Spindell says:

    “if I recall became a born again Christian.”

    Then I guess his immortal soul is saved. Glory Hallelujah!

  13. Anonymously Yours says:


    Can’t win em all…. So they take what they can get.

  14. swarthmoremom says:

    The GOP runs up huge margins in the Dallas and Houston suburbs and exurbs. Even suburban Austin and San Antonio vote GOP. The city of fort Worth is no longer represented by a democrat in congress. Tarrant County has gone heavily tea party. The suburban mega churches help turn out the GOP vote.

    • randyjet says:

      It is true that the suburbs do vote GOP, but I think that may well be changing with the current legislature. They are now trying to stop those same suburbs from banning fracking by passing a bill to take local power away from those voters who have been devotedly GOP. Maybe this will wake them up. For the majority though, I doubt it. The GOP and Texas voted for a Constitutional amendment to ban taking private land and giving it to private enterprises, but when it came to the oil pipeline, they had NO problem ignoring that law and stealing farmers land and arresting the landowners for trespassing on their own land! NOW THAT IS JUST PLAIN STUPID when you vote GOP in the face of that kind of thing.

  15. swarthmoremom says:

    You have to wonder how far the GOP can go in Texas and still stay in power, randyjet. This new crop of republicans that was elected last year seems to be the most extreme of all. Right now there seems to be no limit.

    • randyjet says:

      There is hope for Texas. When I first moved to Houston, our party, the SWP was being shot up, fire bombed, and the KKK was basically running the HPD and was incredibly corrupt and crooked. We ran Debby Leonard for mayor of Houston and all the newspapers and media laughed that a woman would run for mayor. They were all of the opinion that NO woman would be elected mayor in Houston for at least decades. One election cycle later Kathy Whitmire won. Then after that the black chief of police Lee Brown who she appointed ran for mayor and won. Now we have a lesbian mayor who has not only won, but been re-elected. So if somebody had told me back then that a lesbian mayor would have been possible in my lifetime in Houston, even I would have doubted their sanity.

      I think that with this crop of nuts, we will see some shock treatment being applied to the wallets of the GOP faithful. Their property taxes will take a steep hike as the state funding for education is cut out almost entirely, in defiance of the law and state Constitution. Then they will get to enjoy drilling rigs in their towns and alongside the road side picnic areas. They will get to have their neighborhoods smell like Luling, TX.

  16. Randy,
    If they put drilling rigs in neighborhood playgrounds, destroy school districts, and property taxes go up, it will be entirely 100% due to Obama! And Benghazi.

  17. pete9999 says:

    As long as they can afford viniger for the chemtrails.

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