Gavel Grab

Changes to Merit Selection Come Before Arizona Voters

Arizonans will be asked this year whether to change the merit-based system in place for choosing judges for appeals courts and the trial courts in the two largest counties. Backers of the changes say they would reduce the role of the state Bar and give more control to the governor, according to an Arizona Republic article.

There is significant disagreement in the legal and judicial community over the proposals, the article indicates. To read details of the proposals, see earlier Gavel Grab posts.

An election publicity pamphlet will feature support from the State Bar of Arizona,  the Arizona Judges Association, the Legislature, the Arizona Judicial Council and the Governor’s Office.

Critics, on the other hand, fear movement toward a system of political appointments. Opponents include  former state Bar presidents, former chief justices, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the Maricopa County Bar Association and the Arizona Democratic Party.

Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stanley Feldman said the ballot proposal does not constitute a legitimate compromise. ”The Bar, the courts, the judges association were threatened: ‘Either you agree to this and agree to support,’ the Legislature said, ‘or we’re going to put something even worse on the ballot,’ ” Feldman said. “I don’t call it a compromise. I call it caving in to threats.”

A proponent of the changes, Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy, said reform of the existing merit-based selection process is warranted.  ”Talk to any judicial applicant who has been through the process. The process is half merit-selection and half political,” she said, pointing out that candidates seek to lobby judicial nominating commission members to get picked as finalists.


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