Lawyer is loved, loathed at Capitol

The Arizona Republic
Monday, February 20, 2012
Chip Scutari

Timothy M. Hogan was a skinny 20-year-old when he first flashed his courtroom savvy to overturn a government edict.

It was January 1972, the Vietnam War was raging and Uncle Sam needed soldiers. Hogan was drafted and about to lose his student deferment because he wasn't taking enough classes. He took his pre-induction physical, but at the same time he appealed to get his deferment back. Uncle Sam bought his argument that he would take a full course load.

"The government can be amazingly efficient when it wants to be," Hogan said. "That, I think, was my first win in court."

Thirty-three years later, Hogan's simple and succinct legal arguments have fundamentally transformed how Arizona builds, repairs and maintains schools across the state. The executive director of the Arizona Center for the Law in the Public Interest is loved and loathed at the Capitol. He's hailed by some as a modern-day Atticus Finch and castigated by others as an opportunistic attorney who wants to legislate policy through the courts.

His latest battle involves 175,000 students who struggle to learn English. A federal judge has ruled that Arizona lawmakers are shortchanging those students and ordered the Legislature to fix the problem by the end of its 2005 session. The solution, according to a court-mandated cost study, could exceed more than $200 million annually. If the Legislature doesn't meet that deadline, Hogan said he would ask the judge to strip the state of its federal highway funding. That could cost the state more than $400 million.

It's the latest chapter of Tim Hogan vs. the Legislature, irking Republican legislative leaders, who chastise the rail-thin attorney as an enemy of the state. Like him or not, Tim Hogan has been one of the most influential forces at the Arizona Legislature over the past decade. Consider:

Since 1999, Arizona has spent about $3.4 billion on building, repairing and maintaining schools. Why? Because Hogan challenged how Arizona built schools, arguing that it was unfair to lower-income districts. The courts agreed.

House Majority Leader Steve Tully, R-Phoenix, begrudgingly concedes that Hogan has had "an inordinate influence on the direction of the state's education system." But he said Hogan has become a freewheeling cowboy because many of his clients are "long gone" by the time the case is finally decided by a judge. For example, the current issue grew out of a lawsuit, Flores vs. Arizona, that was filed by a Nogales family in 1992.

"With these type of class- action lawsuits, there are no real clients for Mr. Hogan," said Tully, a lawyer. "So you have a situation were he gets to ask for the remedies he desires. Is that good for the state? I don't think so."

Hogan said that description is overblown because the Flores case is his only class-action lawsuit.

"This case is 14 years old," Hogan said. "People move, people graduate. That's the nature of the beast. All of my other cases I have existing clients that I confer with on a regular basis."

Sweet home Chicago

Hogan's elementary school in Chicago sat near the ivy- covered outfield walls of Wrigley Field. The kids would get in for free after the seventh inning. The son of a shoe salesman, Hogan thought about becoming a priest. He raised his hand when a priest asked the boys in his class if they wanted a future in the priesthood. His religious aspirations faded away, but his willingness to challenge authority never waned.

"I'd ask a lot of questions in class, and from time to time that would annoy some of my teachers," Hogan says with a wry smile. "They would switch my teachers around on me. But it didn't help."

Hogan does not care what governors and lawmakers think of him. His legal strategy is nonpartisan. He has won cases against Democrats and Republicans.

"No matter who is the president, now matter who is governor, no matter who is in the Legislature or Congress, some problems just stay with us," Hogan said.

Compromise and diplomacy aren't in his briefcase.

"His job is to be an advocate and not to cut deals," said former Arizona Schools Superintendent Jaime Molera, who fought with Hogan on the Flores case. "He doesn't like to compromise. He's about winning. And he's tenacious. Trust me."

The Arizona Center for the Law in the Public Interest sits in the same complex with an Econolodge near downtown Phoenix. Hogan's office is cramped and coffee-stained. There are books spilling onto the floor and a cheap, fluorescent lamp on his desk. A framed poster celebrating the 30th anniversary of the landmark civil rights case Brown vs. Board of Education stares down from one of his office walls.

He calls himself an "advocate for social justice," an extension of his Catholic upbringing.

"I grew up Catholic, and at that time there was more of an emphasis on social justice," Hogan told The Arizona Republic. "The idea that you can use your talents and skills to help other people always seemed like an important principle to me."

His list of clients over the years has grabbed headlines.

He has defended the constitutionality of Arizona's Clean Elections Law, which has been attacked and criticized almost immediately after voters passed the act in 1998. He challenged some of the closed-door meetings about the downtown baseball stadium. They opened up the meetings.

His biggest impact, however, has been on Arizona's education system.

He is best known, and most reviled in some legislative circles, for winning a lawsuit on behalf of property-poor school districts. He successfully argued that the method of paying for school construction in Arizona was unfair. Districts in poor areas couldn't generate as much money from property taxes as those in wealthy areas. In 1994, the Arizona Supreme Court held that the system violated the state Constitution's requirements for "general and uniform" schools.

Hogan sued the state four times. In the end, he prevailed and put the state into the school construction business. Called Students First, it passed at the height of the economic boom, when dollars were pouring into state coffers.

Students First is viewed by Hogan's critics as a prime example of how forces outside the Legislature handcuff lawmakers. It has been a lightning rod of controversy since 1998, when the Legislature created it. Kevin McCarthy, president of the Arizona Tax Research Association, said Hogan sues regardless of the consequences to the state.

"Public policy development through the courtroom rarely works out well," McCarthy said. "I think what he's done more often than not is create chaos. Tim drops bombs on the Legislature. At the end of the Students First fight, he was taking schools to a place they didn't want to go. He essentially ran them off the cliff."

To others, Hogan stands guard for parents and students who can't afford high-paid lobbyists at the Legislature.

Mike Martinez has known Hogan for almost 20 years. He was the assistant superintendent at the Roosevelt School District, the starting point for the fight over school construction.

"Without this, we would have had to tax our people to the moon," said Martinez, now the superintendent of Cartwright Elementary School District. "He's been a godsend. He'll be remembered as the engineer behind the major overhaul of the public schools and how they are built and repaired."

He can be found at the Capitol puffing on a cigarette. He doesn't drink.

"I decided that drinking wasn't good for me," said Hogan. "That's how I rationalize my smoking habit."

Child of the '60s

While Hogan has stirred up controversy at the Capitol, his family life is run-of-the-mill, almost boring. He is a product of the turbulent "make love, not war" 1960s, but his home life is more Father Knows Best. He married his high school sweetheart when he was 20. Hogan and his wife, Peg, have two children, a son and daughter, and they have lived at the same house for years. When asked about his accomplishments, Hogan proudly points to the fact that he missed only two of his son's high school baseball games over a four-year span. He coached his daughter's softball team to a championship.

"He's always worked hard, but he's always found time for his family," Peg Hogan said. "And he's got a great sense of humor."

Gov. Janet Napolitano, who sometimes butts heads with Hogan, said she admires his cause.

"I think that Tim and the Center for Law have raised important issues," Napolitano said. "Without them, some of those issues would not have been raised at all. They don't pick small fights. They pick important ones."