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Judicial selection overhaul proposition losing in early returns

A proposition to change the way Arizona picks its judges lost resoundingly.

Proposition 115 is behind 73 percent to 27 percent with 90 percent of precincts counted. While it is not immediately clear why voters are rejected the measure, there was a last ditch financial effort by individual lawyers, law firms and judges to defeat it. The Save Merit Selection committee spent almost $104,000 from Sept. 18 to Oct. 25.

Even though the Arizona State Bar and Arizona Supreme Court were in support of the measure, having worked on writing it with the Center for Arizona Policy, Gov. Jan Brewer, and conservative lawmakers, the legal community was aghast.

“This tells me the people of Arizona understand that the merit selection system is a very good system,” said attorney Mark Harrison, one of the chief opponents of the measure. “This vote ought to tell the Legislature to quit messing around with merit selection, and it reaffirms the mandate of the people in 1974 when they passed a constitutional amendment adopting merit selection.”

Opponents’ main complaint is that the measure would give too much power to the governor, which they contend opens the door for judges being chosen for political reasons and not on their legal credentials.

A successful Proposition 115 would give the governor a minimum of eight nominees to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and trial courts, up from a minimum of three. Most of the time, the 15-member selection panel, the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, has sent only three nominees and often the same names appear on the list year after year.

The governor would have also got to appoint four of the five lawyers on the commission without the input of the State Bar of Arizona, which used to recommend all five attorneys on the panel for the governor’s appointment. The State Bar will now get to appoint one attorney.

Opponents were also fearful that a provision allowing the Senate to hold hearings on the judges up for retention will become inquisitions on their rulings.

The measure only affected Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties because the size of their populations puts them under the merit and retention system, while the other 12 counties elect their judges.

 

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