As an advocate for merit selection of judges, Ray Hanna, incoming president of the State Bar of Arizona, has experienced firsthand how the system works.
“I have applied a few times,” says Hanna, who unsuccessfully sought a seat on the Arizona Court of Appeals in 2000 and 2003. Then, exhibiting his comfort with self-deprecating humor, he says, “I’m for merit selection, so they picked the right person — every time.”
Under merit selection, which voters approved in 1974 and applies to the Superior Court in Maricopa and Pima counties and statewide for the Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court, independent commissions submit names of applicants to the governor who makes the final choice.
Hanna, who since 1992 has practiced law in Yavapai County, explains the perceived merits of electing judges and how that era is passing. Raised near Nogales, he recalls a time when Santa Cruz County had a population of 15,000 and one judge.
“He did everything — civil, criminal, probate, juvenile,” Hanna says. “It was kind of a nice job in the ’60s. The electorate knew exactly who that person was. Everybody knew the judge.”
Today’s population in Santa Cruz is about 43,000, and the county has three judges. Likewise in Yavapai County, the population has soared and the number of judges rose from three in 1992 to 10 today.
“It’s difficult to keep track of them,” he says. “It confuses people. It’s getting to the point where the population can’t make an educated decision on who is doing their job — or not.”
Hanna says his mission is consistent with State Bar’s mission. “We are in favor of merit selection.”
Even in Yavapai and Santa Cruz counties? Hanna would not be opposed to having merit selection of judges in all 15 counties, including the 13 rural counties, which still elect their judges. “If I had my way, if I were emperor, I think I would say merit selection is good for everybody,” says the State Bar’s president-elect.
Once appointed to the bench under merit selection, judges’ performance and conduct is reviewed by the Commission on Judicial Performance Review, which issues a report to the public on all judges prior to each general election. Voters then decide whether to retain a judge in office.
Hanna, who assumes the presidency at the Bar’s annual convention June 24-26 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa in Phoenix, also hopes to streamline the lawyer-disciplinary process.
“The argument has been that it’s too slow, too secretive and too soft,” he says. “I don’t necessarily agree with all of that.”
He’d like to see “a process that maybe is a little more open, a little faster, and would be more transparent to the public and to the members.”
Generally, a lawyer wants a complaint resolved in a timely manner as much as the public does. “The lawyer has a vested interest in clearing his name — if he hasn’t done anything wrong. Or if there was something wrong, addressing it in a timely manner.”
The State Bar is studying the Colorado disciplinary system. “It’s best described as maybe a little faster — we call it streamlined,” Hanna says. “An authority can summon a lawyer, and make a review on the front end rather than six to nine months down the road.”
A third area of interest for Hanna is maintaining an impartial and independent judicial system.
“It is that, thanks largely to merit selection,” Hanna says. “People in Arizona and Bar members in Arizona are entitled to have a judiciary that is impartial and independent. That doesn’t mean free to do whatever they want.”
Even in the federal system, in which judges are appointed by the president, confirmed by the U.S. Senate and serve for life, there is a procedure for removal if a judge is involved in misconduct.
“It doesn’t mean they have a kingdom for life,” Hanna says. “It just means they should be able to rule based on law rather than public perception.”
Hanna’s assessment of Arizona’s judiciary: “It’s fairly independent and fairly impartial. Elections are probably an obstacle to that, but we don’t have that in Maricopa and Pima counties.”
Aside from those issues, Hanna intends to follow the State Bar’s mission. “We’re here to serve both the public and the members. People before me have said, ‘When we put the public first, maybe we serve ourselves best.’”
Hanna is a graduate of Arizona State University and the University of Arizona College of Law. He completed graduate work in international law at the United States Naval War College, and is a graduate of the Navy Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island. Hanna served in the Navy JAGC (Judge Advocate General’s Corps), in Spain, from 1987 to 1991, deploying to Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Hanna has been a solo practitioner in Prescott since 1992, accepting criminal and personal-injury cases.
“I’ve always been solo,” he says. “Even in the military I was pretty much a solo.”
When he returned to Arizona after leaving the military, he got a map of the state and put a red dot on the county seats. “My goal was to be somewhere where I could be to work in five minutes,” Hanna says. “I looked at Nogales, St. Johns and Yuma. Actually, Yuma would have been a good choice, if I had known then what I know now. Yuma’s a great place to practice law. There is all kinds of work there, being near the border.”
He checked the demographics, including income levels, and found that Yavapai County had one of the lowest income levels in the state and one of the highest costs of living. The bottom line, though, was to choose a place where he would be happiest — and five minutes from the courthouse.
“Yavapai County has desert, mountains, some water and pine trees,” Hanna says. “It’s probably one of the most diverse counties in Arizona.”
But the goal of living five minutes from where he works is changing. Many cases he handles are being heard in Camp Verde, which is about an hour’s drive away.
Hanna generally takes cases representing the plaintiffs. “I’m not philosophically opposed to being on the defense side,” he says. “Those are typically handled by firms that are not soloists. I’ve always been alone, and I probably will be in the next 20-to-30 years.”
During his last year in the military, he considered becoming a patent lawyer, but was talked out of it. “A good lawyer for Shell Oil told me, ‘You don’t want to do this. You like people too much. You’re going to be reading blueprints, working on patent applications. You’re going to be in a room alone, you’re not going to see people. I can tell that you want to go out and talk to people. You want to be in the courthouse and meet people.’”
So the possibility of someday becoming a judge is less interesting than it once was, for the same reason as being a patent attorney wasn’t attractive — spending all day in a room.
“I’m having a pretty good time,” he says. “I’m so happy with my practice. Somebody said it would be very confining for me to be stuck in an office, eight hours a day, five days a week. I could appreciate that. Maybe it’s not for me.”
The incoming State Bar president commented on some of the topics to be discussed at the upcoming State Bar convention, including the “disappearing jury trial.”
“Trial work is disappearing for a variety of reasons,” he says. “The demise of the jury trial from civil and criminal setting may have different reasons. In criminal cases, so much more is at risk if you make the wrong decision. Criminal cases get priority in jury selection. That’s because we have to be concerned about people sitting in jail or people losing their life.
“In a civil setting, the demise of the jury trial might be because law schools and the court systems have encouraged mediation and arbitration. My only published opinion had to do with forced arbitration in an insurance case. Forcing people to go into arbitration in an insurance dispute — maybe it’s wrong, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t encourage people to settle their differences in a less costly and less time-consuming way. If we can settle a case by arbitration or mediation, it’s probably a good thing.”
On the legal ramifications of the credit crisis many individuals find themselves in, Hanna says, “What you sign for ought to be pretty open and obvious — and it isn’t open and obvious. If you’re one day late on a credit card bill, they jack up your rates. It may not be open and obvious to the average person. The idea of people signing up for credit cards and not knowing what they’re doing is offensive to me.”
Hanna says he’s in favor of openness in almost everything, pauses, and adds, “I’ve been married for 22 years. The secret of happiness is one wife and one credit card. And maybe one house.”
Hanna and his wife Lanette, who also practices law in Yavapai County, have three boys, Kai, Lex and Reid. The couple plays golf once a week and enjoys family hiking.
He was a member of the board of governors for the Shriners Hospital for Children in Mexico City in 1999 and 2000, and has served on the State Bar’s board of governors since 2000. Last year, he was elected to the Sharlot Hall Museum Board of Trustees in Prescott.
Hanna serves on two sections of the State Bar — international law and animal law. The animal law section isn’t limited to attorneys advocating animal rights. It also includes prosecutors concerned with fairly prosecuting animal abusers, animal-lovers who want to make sure they’re treated humanely, and people who just like animals.
“How a person treats an animal says a lot about that person,” Hanna says.
5 QUESTIONS WITH RAY HANNA
If you weren’t a lawyer what would you like to be doing?
When I was in the Navy, my backup plan was economics, hoping to maybe go into foreign service for one of the government agencies.
Is there a political figure you wish you could have met?
Probably Thomas Jefferson, because he had the most interest in outside things in his life. Someone I have met and admire is Raul Castro, the former Arizona governor. He still lives in Santa Cruz County and was my uncle’s lawyer.
What really gripes you about some lawyers?
The comedian Redd Foxx once said, “If you don’t like what I said, you should have left. The door has not been locked.” If you’re unhappy with the practice of law, go into another field. You can sell real estate. You can sell cars. You can teach school. I don’t want to say I’m upset with them, but if they’re unhappy, go become a reporter, go play a musical instrument. Do something that makes you happy.
What’s your favorite restaurant?
At three in the morning — Jack in the Box. At three in the afternoon — the Capital Grille.