Brewer dislikes system to select judges - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Brewer dislikes system to select judges

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Posted: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 6:52 pm | Updated: 2:42 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Gov. Jan Brewer is resigned to not being able to choose whoever she wants to be Arizona's next Supreme Court justice. And she doesn't like it.

Gov. Jan Brewer is resigned to not being able to choose whoever she wants to be Arizona's next Supreme Court justice.

And she doesn't like it.

Brewer, a foe of what has been called "merit selection" of judges, is slated to get a list of at least three names from the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments from the 17 people who applied. That list is due to go to Brewer on June 30, the day that Chief Justice Ruth McGregor steps down. The five justices decide among themselves who is the chief.

Brewer limited in choices for Supreme Court

It doesn't matter whether Brewer likes any of the people nominated or has someone else in mind: The Arizona Constitution requires Brewer to choose from that list. And if Brewer balks, Rebecca Berch, who is slated to take over as chief justice on July 1, gets to make the choice.

"The way that it is written now in Arizona, we have to work within that system," Brewer said of the constitutional provision approved by voters in 1974.

She said there are some positive things about the system.

"Certainly, it gives me the opportunity to have a lot of these people pre-screened," Brewer told Capitol Media Services. "Of course, it limits my choices also."

In a 2006 questionnaire, Brewer, then a candidate for re-election as secretary of state, said she wants to scrap the system. She said the governor should be able to appoint whoever she or he wants, subject only to Senate confirmation.

That's the system which exists at the federal level, the one which President Barack Obama gets to use in choosing a replacement for retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

Her opposition to "merit selection" is not recent. As a legislator, Brewer voted in 1992 to allow residents of Pima and Maricopa counties to elect their Superior Court judges in contested races, the same way voters elect politicians. That bill failed.

Any effort by Brewer or others to alter the system would require amending the constitution, something that would need voter approval. That leaves the governor stuck with the current system.

Fifteen Republicans and two Democrats hope to be the next justice on the court.

The list:

Republicans

Eddward P. Ballinger Jr., a judge on Maricopa County Superior Court;

Robert M. Brutinel, a Yavapai County Superior Court judge;

Kent E. Cattani, an assistant state attorney general;

Norman J. Davis, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge;

Philip G. Espinosa, a judge on the Court of Appeals Division 2 (Tucson);

John C. Gemmill, an appellate court judge from Division 1 (Phoenix);

Philip L. Hall, also from Division 1 of the Court of Appeals;

Lisa G. Tewksbury Hauser, an attorney in private practice who has ties to the Republican Party;

Wallace R. Hoggatt, a judge of Cochise County Superior Courts;

Robert C. Houser Jr., a Maricopa County Superior Court judge;

Stephen H. Lesher, a Tucson attorney in private practice who specializes in business law;

A. John Pelander III, Division 2 Court of Appeals;

Thomas M. Ryan who practices personal injury and malpractice law in Phoenix;

Ann A. Scott Timmer, a judge on Division 1 of the Court of Appeals;

Lawrence F. Winthrop, a judge on Division 1 of the Court of Appeals.

Democrats

Diane M. Johnsen, Court of Appeals Division 1;

Jose H. Robles, a private attorney from Tucson who handles criminal defense matters.

This method of choosing judges has repeatedly come under fire, largely by conservatives.

Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, said that it tends to result in "liberal judges." Her group has favored a variation of the federal system.

McGregor's resignation likely will give Brewer a chance to change the political balance on the five-member court.

Three of the justices are Democrats, including McGregor. The retiring justice was not really seen as partisan, as shown from the fact she was put on the court by Republican Gov. Jane Hull.

Chances are good that Brewer will get at least one Republican from which to choose. The constitution requires the appellate court commission to send her at least three nominations, no more than two from the same political party.

Brewer said she has no "litmus test" of hot-button issues, like vouchers or abortion, that she intends to ask - or that will determine whether she finds a nominee acceptable. But the governor said she is sure some issues will come up.

"I know as we do interviewing and we talk to people, certain things sort of come up and you distinguish between what you feel comfortable with and you don't feel comfortable with," she said.

And Brewer said she already has started thinking about the kind of person she wants to appoint: "Integrity and honesty and somebody that can interpret the law according to the way it is written."

The 1974 constitutional amendment has applicants for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and trial courts in Pima and Maricopa counties screened by commissions. The governor must select from that list within 60 days or forfeit the right to the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

The other half of the system spells out that whoever the governor selects then "runs" for re-election on a regular basis on a "retain-or-reject" system, with no opponent. If voters turn someone out of office, then the selection process starts over again.

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