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Commission only knocks a few judges on performance

Commission only knocks a few judges on performance

The state’s 27-member commission that grades judges gave unanimous thumbs up for nearly all 64 of the judges up for retention this year except a few.

The commission split 15-12 on whether Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Bethany Hicks is fit to serve. She hears civil cases.

Five commissioners didn’t think Judge Raymond Lee had the necessary judicial chops and three commissioners didn’t think Judge Benjamin Norris has what it takes. Both work in Maricopa County Superior Court’s Juvenile division.

A smattering of the judges from Maricopa and Pima Counties, the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals got single votes of no confidence.

Judge Gary Donahoe, who was targeted for criminal charges by former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, got a unanimous endorsement from the Commission on Judicial Performance Review.

Thomas filed bribery charges against Donahoe, who had disqualified the County Attorney’s Office from conducting an investigation on a criminal court tower underway in downtown Phoenix.

Donahoe, who oversaw Maricopa County’s criminal courts, was also named in a federal racketeering case.

Both cases were dropped, and recently released grand jury transcripts show the grand jury ended a corruption probe into Donahoe and county leaders.

Arizona has two systems for selecting judges: merit selection for counties with populations greater than 250,000, and popular election for all other counties.

Under merit selection, a selection panel recommends judicial prospects to the governor, who then chooses. The judges then have to go through a retention election every four years.

The Commission on Judicial Performance Review evaluates the judges through surveys of lawyers and litigants and decides whether a judge meets or does not meet judicial standards. The commission’s determination is then published in the Secretary of State’s publicity pamphlet along with the survey findings.

According to the surveys, attorneys didn’t show much regard for Hicks’ legal abilities, integrity or judicial temperament, while her colleagues on the civil bench barely registered dissatisfaction in those categories.

When it came to basic fairness and impartiality, 14 respondents, or 12 percent, said Hicks rated poor or unsatisfactory. Twenty-eight respondents said her legal reasoning ability was either poor or unsatisfactory.

- Gary Grado

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