The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments will interview nine of the 12 applicants for the Arizona Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Rebecca White Berch’s retirement, which will be Gov. Doug Ducey’s first appointment to the state’s highest court.
The panel chose Arizona Court of Appeals judges Michael Brown, Kent Cattani, Andrew Gould, Maurice Portley, Samuel Thumma and Lawrence Winthrop, along with Goldwater Institute litigation chief Clint Bolick, former Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores and Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason to move on to the next phase in the selection process. The commission will interview the candidates at its Nov. 20 meeting.
Under the Arizona Constitution, the commission must send at least three nominees to the governor, with no more than two of the same political party. Mike Liburdi, Ducey’s general counsel, urged the panel to send more than the minimum number of names to the Ninth Floor.
Six of the applicants – Cattani, Flores, Gould, Thomason, Thumma and Winthrop – are Republicans. Brown and Portley are Democrats, and Bolick is an independent who works for the conservative Goldwater Institute. Most governors select judges of their own party, making it likely that Ducey will pick a fellow Republican.
Supporters of several of the applicants spoke in their favor at Monday’s commission meeting. Dawn Northup, who serves as chief of the Civil Agency Division at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, described Cattani, a former colleague, as uniquely qualified. She praised his work on analytical abilities and his work on complex capital appeals cases, said he stood out at the Attorney General’s Office for carrying a caseload as a section chief, and said he has the support of both prosecutors and defense attorneys.
“He has worked collaboratively with both prosecutors and very reputable defense attorneys on bringing more fairness and streamlining to the process of capital litigation,” Northup said. “Having someone with over 20 years of experience doing capital litigation, including arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, I think makes him uniquely qualified for this position.”
Colleen McNally, the presiding family court judge for Maricopa County Superior Court, said Thumma, who preceded her in the position, was so well-liked by the people in his court that after he left, many were dismayed by his departure.
“They’d want to know where their judge was. They knew that he cared about them,” McNally said. “That’s not something that happens every day.”
Anthony Young, the executive director of Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Inc., praised Winthrop, who has twice served as Arizona Court of Appeals Division I chief judge, for his work on helping low-income Arizonans receive access to justice and legal representation. And Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Janet Barton lauded Winthrop, her mentor, for his legal acumen, sense of fairness and judicial philosophy.
Barton emphasized Winthrop’s 25 years as a trial attorney, which is the kind of experience she said the Arizona Supreme Court needs, and said he understands the impact that appellate decisions have on trial courts and litigants.
“Larry’s decisions are well-written and easy of the judges and litigants to understand and follow. They’re also routinely recognized as being soundly based upon Arizona statutes or existing case law. If possible, Larry’s decisions defer to the Legislature with respect to the purpose and application of statutes they have enacted and the language they have used in those statutes,” Barton said. “Over the last 13 years, Larry has been a fair and balanced jurist, devoted to the rule of law, with a clear understanding of the role of the judiciary in our system of government.”
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, urged the commission to consider Bolick, as did Andrea Weck-Robertson, who said her autistic daughter has been able to get education that wasn’t available in the public school system because of the empowerment scholarship account program that Bolick defended in court.
“Because of the Arizona vouchers and because of her right to choose, I have been able to school her in a private school for 10 years. She’s still nonverbal, but she communicates through her iPad. She can tell me anything,” Weck-Robertson said. “She can learn. She can communicate with her friends. And because of him giving me a voice, I have been able to empower other families with the empowerment scholarship accounts that he has helped bring to the state of Arizona and defend and bring to other states.”
Robert Duber, a retired judge from Gila County, urged the commission to consider Flores, who is now in private practice, saying the court could benefit from the experience of someone who has practiced law in a rural area. Duber said 94 percent of the attorneys in Arizona practice in Maricopa and Pima counties.