Phoenix: Grant Woods, former Arizona attorney general, dies at 67

Phoenix: Grant Woods, former Arizona attorney general, dies at 67

Craig Harris | Maria Polletta | Arizona Republic

Troy Warren for PhoenixNewsAndTalk.Com #EditorsPicks


Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, the prosecutor and politician who frequently broke with his longtime party to support Democratic candidates and causes, died Saturday from a heart attack.

He was 67 years old.

“I am so proud of the man he was, public servant, advocate for the everyday person, lover of music and stories and sports. He made me a better person. I can’t even fathom our lives without him. But we are strong, and a close family and we will work hard to honor his life,” said Marlene Galan Woods, Grant Woods’ wife, in a prepared statement.

Woods is survived by his wife, Marlene, and their five children: Austin, Lauren, Cole, Dylan and Ava.

Funeral arrangements will be announced soon, the statement said.

“Grant Woods was a great public servant, tremendous family man and a dear friend of my husband and our entire family,” Cindy McCain, wife of the late Sen. John McCain, said to The Arizona Republic. “My sorrow at his untimely passing is only diminished by my knowledge that Grant and John are together again cracking jokes and worrying about the Diamondbacks.”

A graduate of Mesa’s Westwood High School, Occidental College in Los Angeles and Arizona State University’s law school, Woods cut his political teeth as chief of staff to fellow Republican and then-U.S. Rep. McCain in the early 1980s.

He went on to become partner at a Mesa law firm, where he worked until deciding to run for office himself in 1990. He jumped into the race for state attorney general after longtime Republican incumbent Bob Corbin withdrew before the primary.


Woods campaigned on civil rights issues, openly supporting a state Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and opposing a GOP-backed English-only ballot measure. McCain and other prominent Republicans nonetheless supported Woods’ candidacy, and he won. He also married local television news anchor Marlene Galan that year. 

During his two terms in office, Woods made a name for himself as a leading attorney in a national, multibillion-dollar settlement with the tobacco industry over cigarette-related health dangers. In 1995, his peers named him the top attorney general in the country. 

But his administration had its share of scandal.  

His office came under investigation by then-Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley for the alleged mishandling of two funds: one for internal employee retreats, the other for a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.  

Investigators charged that the funds had been commingled and used to pay for questionable office frills. 

Woods eventually repaid $25,000, and his chief of staff resigned as part of the settlement. But a day later, Woods rehired his chief and denied wrongdoing.  

Romley called him a liar, and the chief eventually quit.

A Republican willing to stray from party lines

Woods had a weekly talk-radio show while in office and remained on the airwaves after stepping down due to term limits.  

He became a highly sought-after political figure for endorsements and did not hesitate to stray from the party line if he felt a Democrat’s platform better aligned with his values. 

Woods endorsed Democrat Terry Goddard for state attorney general in 2002, for instance. He also helped campaign for Janet Napolitano and Harry Mitchell in their respective winning bids for governor and Congress. 

Later, unable to swallow then-candidate Donald Trump’s controversial politics, he endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president in the 2016 election and called Trump “the least qualified ever.”   

Chuck Wahlheim, a former newspaper publisher and co-founder of Kids Voting, called Woods a “Democrat masquerading as a Republican” in a 2007 profile of his close friend.  

Still, Woods remained in the good graces of powerful Republicans and influential civic leaders, such as sports mogul Jerry Colangelo.  

He also served as Republican Gov. Jan Brewer’s campaign manager when she won the election in 2010 and continued to be one of her valued advisers. 

There were rumblings Woods might again seek office in 2011, by running for mayor of Phoenix. But his relationship with the Fiesta Bowl likely thwarted a comeback. 

The Fiesta Bowl hired Woods in December 2009 to investigate whether bowl employees made illegal political campaign contributions, following a detailed report in The Republic in which unidentified current and former employees called the practice widespread.

Woods said after a one-week investigation that he had found no wrongdoing. He accepted a $55,000 fee for his work, giving $20,000 to a bowl lobbyist who eventually became the target of a criminal investigation. 

A subsequent, independent investigation found widespread wrongdoing, including financial mismanagement, at the bowl. Ultimately, six employees, including former Chief Executive John Junker, were convicted of crimes for their involvement in the campaign-contribution scheme.

In April 2011, Woods wrote a lengthy editorial in The Republic saying he had failed at investigating the Fiesta Bowl. 

“I should have worked harder to live up to the standards I set for myself, if for no other reason than to protect my reputation,” Woods wrote at the time. “But I didn’t get the job done this time, and I regret greatly that I let my client down.” 

Highly respected lawyer in Arizona

Despite the Fiesta Bowl debacle, Woods remained in demand in his private law practice. 

He represented a variety of high-profile clients, including the Phoenix Coyotes, Toyota Motor Co., Meritage Homes, Best Western International and the Service Employees International Union. 

He was appointed special prosecutor to investigate public corruption in Apache County, resulting in the conviction and removal from office of that county’s sheriff. He also served as a special prosecutor for murder cases in Maricopa and Cochise counties. 

He also was active in the arts, writing screenplays, songs, a children’s book and a novel over the years. 


Woods turned his attention back to politics in 2018, after McCain, who had become a U.S. senator known for his “maverick” style, died of brain cancer. The two had remained friends for decades, and Woods gave a colorful eulogy at McCain’s televised memorial.  

There was speculation Gov. Doug Ducey might appoint Woods to carry out the remainder of McCain’s term. After the governor appointed former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl instead, Woods changed his party registration from Republican to Democrat and endorsed Democrat Kyrsten Sinema’s bid for Arizona’s other U.S. Senate seat. 

Sinema defeated then-Congresswoman Martha McSally, but the Republican made it to Washington anyway. Ducey appointed McSally after Kyl resigned from his temporary Senate post. 

For months, Woods teased a possible run against McSally in 2020, criticizing her allegiance to President Trump. 

“The way you win it is with a centrist, somebody who actually is not super partisan and works with people on both sides of the aisle,” he told reporters at the time. 

Woods ultimately backed down, saying he had no interest in entering what would likely be a nasty Democratic primary but was touched by the encouragement he had received while considering a run.  

“Thank you to the people across Arizona for your amazing support,” he wrote on Twitter. “It means so much.” 

In recent months, Woods had been reviewing the death of a 90-year-old resident at Canyon Winds Retirement Community in Mesa. Lawrence Bearse was found dead in a transport van at the facility on July 22. 

“It was a real tragedy, what went on out there,” Woods told The Republic in August. “It’s something that just can’t happen.”

Woods at the time said the investigation would look at “all aspects related to the operation of this facility,” including policies, procedures, hiring and training. He added that the investigation was “not under any time limits” but that he believed it could be completed by the end of the year. It is unclear how the investigation will proceed after Woods’ passing.


Republic reporters Yvonne Wingett-Sanchez and BrieAnna J. Frank contributed to this article.

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By Troy Warren

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