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Political lawyers analyze Arizona’s legal system in their new blogs

Blog printed on an old typewriter

Blog printed on an old typewriter

If the heyday of online blogging has ended, nobody told Kory Langhofer and Eric Spencer.

Both men are politically involved lawyers who have long floated around the Capitol – most recently, Spencer was elections director under Secretary of State Michele Reagan before taking a job with Snell & Wilmer, while Langhofer is currently fighting to help embattled Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen keep his job amid an investigation into an international adoption fraud. And both men, seeing a dearth of legal expertise in the news ecosystem in Arizona (they insist this is not a knock against the Arizona Capitol Times), took it upon themselves to start blogs analyzing different aspects of the state legal system.

While they’re not exactly writing with the humor and irreverence of Gothamist or Gawker or any of the other blogs of yore, both attorneys offer staid, thorough analysis and research of legal conundrums and court cases with minimal infusions of their personal politics, which lean rightward in both cases.

Kory Langhofer

Kory Langhofer

“It was mostly born out of frustration,” said Langhofer.

His aptly named SCOAZ blog, which launched in August, goes deep into the weeds of cases before the Arizona Supreme Court, examining individual arguments and rulings to find precedents that might be relevant in later litigation. It also hosts a database of filings in cases before the court.

The blog, which is maintained by Langhofer and the rest of the staff at his firm, Statecraft, is readable, but quite clearly tailored toward an audience of Supreme Court regulars. Take, for example, a November 25 post about a case concerning tribally owned corporations and a negligence claim stemming from a whitewater rafting argument.

“The Supreme Court appears poised to hold that sovereign immunity insulates private corporations wholly owned by Indian tribes for tort claims arising out of off-reservation incidents — at least until Congress declares otherwise,” the lead reads. This kind of inside-baseball language is a newspaper editor’s worst nightmare. But Langhofer isn’t trying to write for a newspaper, and he said he has tapped into an audience hungry for serious legal analysis.

“There’s been a number of blogs that talked about appellate law, but they weren’t comprehensive,” he said. “We’re gonna do leg work, and tell you what is new and noteworthy. It’s consequential – we’re not as big as California or New York, but the Arizona Supreme Court affects a lot of things throughout the state. For nobody to look at that in a more orderly way is a lost opportunity.”

He said he has readers from throughout the state’s legal world, and he’s happy to produce content that can help his and other firms moving forward.

Spencer’s blog, on the other hand, occupies an even smaller niche in the media market. The former elections administrator started his Arizona Election Law Blog in September.

It’s a passion project unrelated to his firm. He offers practical advice for legal practitioners and campaigns looking to navigate elections law.

“It’s really borne of wanting to fill a gap in the discourse over election law,” he said. “There’s a pretty healthy community of private and government lawyers, officials and activists that rely on cutting-edge information.”

Spencer had done some legal writing prior to entering his role at the Secretary of State’s Office. But when he joined government, he said, he saw how little bandwidth most political professionals have to wade through thorny law journal pieces “designed to show how smart you are.”

So, he taught himself some basic WordPress, bought a URL and began clacking away. Citing precedent, primary sources and original documents, he has written about the testing of Maricopa County’s election equipment, analyzed the dimensions of street-corner campaign signs and more.

Eric Spencer

Eric Spencer

“I either bring stories to the media and political collective’s attention, or take an existing story and add my insight and experience as a lawyer and former elections director and at least slightly move the needle,” he said. “The other goal is to be a resource for candidates and consultants.”

Both men have essentially thrust themselves into the public as de facto members of the political press. The SCOAZ blog has even scooped the Yellow Sheet Report. It’s not an entirely uncommon occurrence, and the politico-to-pundit pipeline is nothing new.

But they’re not just thoughtlessly pontificating. Not dissimilar to another secretary of state alum, Garrett Archer, who achieved some renown on Twitter for his vote tally updates before taking a job with ABC 15, they’re doing actual reporting. And that’s given both attorneys some insight into how the legal world communicates with the public.

“The blog was almost a rejection of traditional legal writing, and a way to bring more common modern media standards to legal writing,” Spencer said. “I saw so little of that in the existing market.”

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