Chief Justice Scott Bales in his chamber. PHOTO BY DILLON ROSENBLATT/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Chief Justice Scott Bales informed Governor Doug Ducey today he plans to retire this summer once his term as chief justice is up.
Bales has been on the Supreme Court since 2005 and served as chief justice since 2014. He did not hire any clerks for this year, a sign of a pending retirement. He told Arizona Capitol Times in January he was strongly considering retirement, but had not made up his mind yet.
Bales’s retirement means Ducey will get to appoint his fifth justice to the state’s highest court.
Ducey has already appointed Justice Clint Bolick in 2016, and Justices Andrew Gould and John Lopez IV later that year after the governor signed the law expanding the court from five to seven justices.
Ducey is now in the process of picking his fourth justice to fill the seat left vacant by Justice John Pelander’s Feb. 28 retirement, and the process will begin again when Bales leaves on July 31.
Bales retirement follows an unwritten tradition of chief justices.
Remaining on the court after the five-year term as chief justice is rare. Of Arizona’s previous six chief justices, only two remained on the court for more than one year. Rebecca White Berch – who held the title before Bales – remained on for 15 months, and Stanley Feldman remained on for five years. So it is definitely not uncommon that Bales has decided his time was up.
In his place Vice Chief Justice Robert Brutinel will become chief justice and the longest tenured member on the bench. Justice Ann Scott Timmer will become the vice chief.
As is currently happening to fill the seat vacated by Pelander, a merit selection committee will decide which candidates they decide are best qualified to send to the governor for his appointment.
It’s possible to see many of the same applicants who sought the most recent vacancy try again as the process to fill Bales’ slot moves ahead.
Before joining the Supreme Court, Bales worked for a private practice from 1985 to 1994, was an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona from 1995 to 1999, the Arizona solicitor general from 1999 to 2001 and then returned to a private practice until Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano appointed him to the Supreme Court.
Bales just served as chair of the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which was tasked with interviewing candidates for the vacancy of Justice John Pelander’s seat.