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Tucson Weekly Non Compos 'Menace'

Looks Like The Fifester Has Been Handed His 'Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free' Card

By Jeff Smith

SEPTEMBER 2, 1997:  THE FRONT PAGE of The Arizona Daily Star last week carried the account of an aging woman whose failing mental capacities brought her into conflict with her colleagues and finally forced her to relinquish a position of grave public responsibility.

This bittersweet story of human frailty and strength was made the more ironic by the fact that those closest to the woman and her labors, the very colleagues whose workload was doubled by her failing intellectual powers, unanimously expressed their respect and affection for her. They hated to see her leave the public arena, but it was time to recognize and admit that time waits for no woman.

This local headline caught the attention of a far wider audience than Tucson and the circulation of the Star: Political observers throughout the nation and the world have followed the story.

In the end it was the woman's unswerving adherence to principle--something no degree of diminished powers of concentration nor capacity for recollection could erode--that moved her to exit the stage. We can only wait and wonder and eagerly shuffle the pages of the Star to see what will happen in what has become one of our favorite daily soap operas:

Where is Gary Trudeau taking "Doonesbury" now that Lacey Davenport has Alzheimer's and is resigning from Congress?

MEANWHILE, IN MORE mundane matters, what's up with this Mary Jane Cotey business in the Fife Symington trial?

Did Fife's lawyers recruit her for the jury so they'd have grounds for an appeal when the case was handed to the jury and everything went irretrievably to shit? Me, I wouldn't be surprised to learn, years from now, that Mary Jane is retired to Papeete, sipping rum and coconut milk, and cashing checks from a mysterious sugar daddy. I mean, this ditzy 74-year-old former Republican precinct committeewoman from Phoenix looks to be Symington's Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card.

I'm sure you've all read and heard beau coups of news about Juror No. 161 and her fall from grace and from the Symington jury panel. Maybe it was the 13 weeks of sitting in the same chair, listening to bankers and lawyers discuss financial statements and technical points of law that caused her brain to atrophy, but evidently whatever happened to Mary Jane was more than just a broken arm. After seven days of deliberating a case that any 3-year-old could see was a slam-dunk for conviction, the Symington jury was at the point of having to hire an interpreter to explain things to Ms. Cotey--real slow and in words of one syllable--and then diagram them in stick figures with Crayolas.

Transcripts of discussions among the jurors, the judge and the lawyers in the case indicate that Mary Jane went into the jury room with her mind made up to acquit Fife. So methodical discussion and point-by-point, count-by-count voting on the charges only served to confuse a mind that apparently was not engaged. Come to think about it, Mary Jane Cotey sounds a bit like Congresswoman Lacey Davenport. I wish I'd noticed it sooner.

But you've read all this, or seen it on TV: Mary Jane Cotey, a.k.a. Juror No. 161, is out, and Juror No. 182 is the latest overnight media sensation. She's 54, by the way, from Massachusetts by way of Chandler, mother of two and an airline reservation clerk.

Whether the decision she and her 11 new playmates reach regarding the future of Fife Symington holds any water, is entirely up in the air. Thanks to Mary Jane Cotey. Frankly I feel pretty bad for Mary Jane, honestly I do. Unless the fix was in from the jump, and she's booked for Papeete--which makes for entertaining conjecture, but is not something I seriously believe--this is a decent and conscientious woman who has fallen prey to the inevitable erosion of time, and who now is being divested of dignity and privacy in the public prints. Like right here.

The unfortunate Ms. Cotey has just played the latest wild card in what's come to be the pathetic political soap opera of Arizona government affairs. Ev Mecham, Rose Mofford and now this. I suppose the Arizona taxpayer can take small comfort in knowing that Symington's trial is in federal court, so the folks in Caribou, Maine, and Petaluma, California, get to kick in for what must be well over $100 in court costs, but the frustration is palpable. If the jury gets through the 21 counts against Symington in this lifetime, and convicts him on any one of them--which logic, decency and commonsense demand--Mary Jane Cotey has handed the defense a pass to appeal and run this nightmare clear into the 22nd century.

There could be a constitutional amendment and Fife could be in his 27th term as governor by then.

I could be grown up and still writing for The Weekly.

This is all too depressing to contemplate.


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