We learned today of the death of Leonard “Len” Copple, who served about 8 1/2 years on the Tempe City Council, including a term as Tempe Vice Mayor in 2000-2002.   The retired longtime Tempe attorney, who was in private practice and occasionally did legal ads on Valley TV, died Monday  at his home from cancer.  He had been in hospice care.  His cancer was discovered last summer.  He was 68.

Len had been a fixture in Tempe political and civic  life.  He was appointed the the City Council in December 1993 to fill out the remainder of the term of Councilman Don Cassano who left the council to run for Tempe mayor in 1994.  Don lost in a three-way race between him, Barbara Sherman and Neil Giuliano, the winner.  Len went on to win two four-year terms on the council in 1998 and 2002.   His 1998 victory was a highly contested race that swept out two women on the City Council, Carol Smith and Linda Spears, who were seeking re-election.  Also elected at that time, for the first time on the Council, was Hugh Hallman, who would be elected six years later as mayor when Neil Giuliano chose not to run again after a 10-year tenure.

Len was unseated in 2006.  Failing to get a majority in the city primary election in March, he was pitted against newcomer Onnie Sherkerjian in the May general election, where Onnie won with 52 percent of the vote.  He had been  targeted by anti-Copple campaign mailers from “Tempe Deserves Better, ” an independent expenditure committee bankrolled by the Arizona Republican Party.  The month after the election, the group was fined $8,600. Under law,  if a candidate is targeted by a mailer within 10 days of the election, he or she must receive a copy of the mailer by certified mail.  It never happened.   A Tempe Deserves Better attorney later said it was a “mailing misunderstanding” and “oversight.” That group was formed by Copple’s nemesis, Jesse Hernandez, who had previously run from the Arizona Legislture, but lost.

More controversy surrounded Len’s candidacy that year. In March, attorney Gary Peter Klahr, a one-time Phoenix city councilman, made a public offer of $10,000 to “any political consultant who could make sure that  Tempe City Councilman Len Copple isn’t re-elected,” according to an Arizona Republic article.  Leonard had been named the hearing officer from the Arizona State Bar Association to investigate alleged misconduct by Khahr.  He said Copple’s rulings led to his disbarment. Among complaints against Klahr were unfair billing practices. Klahr lost his legal license in 2002, in part because of the ruling by Copple, the Republic said.  Meanwhile, there were no consultants willing  to take the $10,000 offer by Klahr.

Early last September, Len had noticed a rash on his body, and within a month, he began treatment for lymphoma.  According to his CaringBridge.org site, it was determined to be a T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, with lots of similarities to leukemia.  It was an aggressive cancer, which, when caught early, could be treated.  Chemotherapy was carried out in several series.  His cancer had been in short remission before it regained momentum. Len battled pneumonia through ordeal.

Len’s father, William Perry Copple, was the U.S. Attorney for Arizona in the mid-1960s until President Lyndon Johnson appointed him a federal judge in 1966. He served in that role for decades and died in 2000 in Cottonwood.

More than 20 years ago, I served with Len’s wife, Jean, on Tempe Community Council, and she and I were involved in the start of Open Horizons, a ground-breaking effort to provide in-school care of babies and toddlers of high school girls and boys with the  goal of keeping the teens in school so they could graduate.     Len and Jean received Tempe Leadership’s Outstanding Citizen Leadership Award from Tempe Leadership in 1993, the year after I was selected for it.   Later, I nominated Len for the Don Carlos Leadership Award for his body of work and service to Tempe.  He  never got  it, probably because, in so many years that followed, he was on the City Council, making him ineligible for the honor.  Until 2002, Jean and Len were members of my Tempe church where they spent 32 years.  Len was an elder on the Session, or church board, 1973-76.  Len was chairman of many community boards including Vision Tempe, which pulled together community input to plot the direction of the city for decades to come.  He was on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission 1984-89.  His smooth, resonant voice was the one we heard for many years when we called the City of  Tempe and would be put on hold. He touted Tempe programs while we waited.   He serve faithfully on the Tempe Salvation Army Advisory Board and

Len was in the middle of plenty of controversy while he was on the city council.  He created a firestorm in 2004 when he was said to have turned over W-2’s of Mayor Hugh Hallman to mayoral rival and former Councilman Dennis Cahill, a fellow Democrat.  Here is how Phoenix New Times summed it up several years later:  “Copple, who was supporting Cahill, cajoled city staff members to hand over Hallman’s W-2 forms. (Yes, that is against the law.) Then he faxed the forms to newspapers, saying they showed that Hallman had, in fact, accepted a car allowance, in violation of his public stance. Turns out, he hadn’t. The arrangement was simply more complicated than it appeared on the tax forms.  Hallman had written checks to reimburse the city for every dime.”

Len also stuck to his guns in the City Council debates earlier this decade over construction of a new stadium for the Arizona Cardinals in north Tempe. It almost happened, but then the plan fell apart because of air traffic safety issues and other factors.

Len had maintained his private law offices on Southern Avenue near the Shalimar neighborhood for many years.

His funeral services will be 1 p.m. Sunday, May 23, at Mission del Sol Presbyterian Church, 1565 E. Warner Rd., in Tempe. He is survived by his wife, Jean; three children, six grandchildren; and a brother. The family asks that donations be made to the Friends of the Tempe Center for the Arts (700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe, 85281) or to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (http://pages.teamintraining.org/dm/rnr10/cathyswann).


As a councilman, Hallman was convinced that Tempe had a problem.

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