Voters overwhelmingly retained state Supreme Court Justice John Pelander, who struck back at Republican groups that called for his removal from the bench.
Pelander, a Republican, was retained with a 74 percent “yes” vote, a tally that is common for judges who receive high marks from the Commission on Judicial Performance Review, a panel that passes its evaluations of judges up for retention on to voters.
Republican committees in Legislative Districts 18 and 12 and former Senate President Russell Pearce, who is the first vice chairman of the state Republican Party, called for the justice’s removal in get-out- the-vote fliers and on GOP websites. They opposed Pelander largely because of his part in a unanimous, three-judge ruling that put Proposition 121 on the ballot.
They accused Pelander, a 2009 appointee of Gov. Jan Brewer, of ignoring overwhelming evidence that signatures for the proposition, the top-two primary measure, were fraudulently collected. The measure, which failed in the Nov. 6 election, would have allowed the top two finishers in a primary to go on to the general election regardless of their party affiliation.
Pelander, who hired a political consultant and formed a campaign committee in the weeks before the election, said his critics had his role confused with that of a trial judge. He noted that appellate judges don’t review evidence, they just make sure the lower-court judge didn’t commit any legal errors.
Pelander was the only Supreme Court justice up for retention. Five Court of Appeals judges, all appointees of former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, were also recommended for removal by the Republican groups. The judges were retained by an average of 66.5 percent “yes” votes.
Pelander, as well as Court of Appeals and Superior Court judges in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties, are part of the state’s merit and retention system. They are appointed by the governor and face retention by voters every four years. Judges in the 12 remaining counties are elected.
Merit selection judges are critiqued by the Commission on Judicial Performance Review, a 30-member panel that passes on to the voters its recommendations of whether the judges “meet” or “do not meet” judicial standards. The commission unanimously agreed Pelander meets the standards to be retained.