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Commission nominates three for state Supreme Court

The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments sent three state Supreme Court nominees to Gov. Jan Brewer today, including two whose names are familiar to her.

Judges Ann Scott Timmer and Diane Johnsen, both of the Court of Appeals, are finalists for the high court for the fourth and third times respectively. The commission also chose Judge Douglas Rayes, the top criminal judge for Maricopa County Superior Court.

The commission spurned Chief Justice Rebecca Berch’s suggestion as the chair of the panel to forward as many nominees as possible to Gov. Jan Brewer. It decided instead to send the legally allowed minimum number. Because there were three Democrats in the group of nine who were interviewed, the commission could have sent as many four Republicans for a final list of seven. The Constitution requires a balance of political parties in the list.

“I expressed my preference and they blew me off,” Berch said.

Commission member Tom Taylor, an independent chosen by Brewer, said he wanted a smaller list because it was the commission’s job “to do the heavy lifting” and narrow the slate or else a staffer from the governor’s office would make the selection.

The successful nominee will replace former Vice Chief Justice Andrew Hurwitz, who was appointed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The current slate mirrors one in 2010 that included two appellate court judges and a trial-court judge. Johnsen and Timmer were finalists in 2009 and 2010 and Timmer also got onto the short list in 2005.

One member, Jill Harrison, said Johnsen’s interview wasn’t up to par, but she was still highly qualified. Harrison said Johnsen isn’t at her best when she’s talking about herself.

“Where she shines is when she talks about the substance of legal matters,” Harrison said.

Harrison said Rayes was the standout candidate.

“He really hit it out of the park,” she said.

This selection will mark Brewer’s third Supreme Court justice since she took office in 2009. She’s chosen Justices John Pelander and Robert Brutinel.

Eight of the nine who interviewed got votes to be on the short list. The only one who didn’t was Christina Cabanillas, who heads up the civil litigation division for the U.S. Attorney for Arizona.

Each applicant was given an identical set of questions, but the commission asked Cabanillas additional questions about her lengthy record of traffic violations and what her part was in trying to keep secret the name of an assistant U.S. Attorney who was accused of prosecutorial misconduct. The U.S. Attorney for Arizona kept the accused prosecutor’s name off of briefs submitted to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Commission members said Cabanillas had received 11 moving violations and a citation for not having proper registration. But Cabanillas said her record shouldn’t be a problem in being a Supreme Court justice and she would watch her speeding.

She said she wasn’t part of the decision-making process in the prosecutorial misconduct case, but she did edit briefs for it.

“I think she dodged my question,” member Ted Schmidt said.

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