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Commission narrows field of Supreme Court applicants

County Attorney Bill Montgomery among the list

Judges office

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is one of 11 applicants for a spot on the Arizona Supreme Court who will move on to the interview process with the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments.

The 14-member commission met today to begin vetting the applicants vying for the seat held by Justice John Pelander, who will retire March 1.

Although no one who attended the public meeting spoke against any of the applicants, the AZ Mirror published a scathing letter from Mikel Steinfeld, president of the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, saying Montgomery isn’t fit to be a Supreme Court justice.

“. . . Montgomery’s background shows that he lacks traits necessary to serve in this capacity: He can’t fairly consider misconduct allegations, is driven by ideology and lacks appellate experience crucial to the highest court in our state,” Steinfeld wrote.

Steinfeld said in his letter that it is the Supreme Court’s job to oversee attorney discipline and establish attorney rules of conduct, but Montgomery has turned a blind eye to misconduct of prosecutors in his office. Steinfeld said Montgomery’s record shows he tried to use his position to obstruct the Medical Marijuana Act, a voter-approved law, but the high court is supposed to uphold the law. And Steinfeld also criticized Montgomery for his lack of experience at the appellate court level compared to the “solid foundation of appellate experience” of the rest of the applicants.

“Montgomery is a politician first and foremost,” Steinfeld said.

Two people spoke in favor of Montgomery: Ray Arvizu and Daniel Ortega.

They both shared stories about Montgomery and expressed how willing he is to work across party lines, how he is genuine, sincere and transparent. Ortega, a progressive Democrat said the county attorney “truly cares about the community,” and will always sit down to listen what the other side has to say.

James Beene, Maria Elena Cruz, and Kent Cattani, the only repeat applicant, passed through unanimously, while Montgomery got 12 of 13 votes. The commission’s chairman, Chief Justice Scott Bales, did not vote on any of the candidates.

The other candidates who made it to the interview round in order of votes from the commission are: David Euchner and Andrew Jacobs with 11; Sean Brearcliffe and Richard Gordon with 10; Rachel Nassen with nine; Jennifer Perkins with eight; and Timothy Wright with the minimum of seven votes.

Randall Howe and Paul Avelar did not make the cut.

Once the interview process is complete, the commission must send at least three candidates to the governor, no more than two-thirds can come from the same political party. Only four of the candidates to apply are not registered Republicans and they all will advance to the interview stage: Democrats Cruz and Jacobs, Independent Nassen, and Libertarian Euchner. At least one of those names will make the short list for Gov. Doug Ducey to consider.

The interviews with the eleven applicants will each take between 20 to 30 minutes all on March 1.

Brearcliffe and Gordon contributed money to Ducey’s campaign for governor in 2018. Two of the three justices Ducey has already appointed also contributed to his prior campaign before their appointments: Justices Clint Bolick and John Lopez.

All three women applicants made it through to the next round, which is significant because Justice Ann Scott Timmer is currently the only woman on the court. Lopez is the first and only Latino to be appointed to the court, and no black justices have ever served on the state Supreme Court. Cruz would be the first Latina and first black justice if she’s chosen since she is mixed.

After March 1, the commission has 60 days to submit a shortlist to Ducey, and then Ducey has 60 days to appoint a new justice. If he fails to meet that deadline, the chief justice would get to appoint the newest member. That has never happened.

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