Gov. Doug Ducey now has the majority of the Arizona Supreme Court picks after appointing Judge James P. Beene today to fill the seat vacated by Justice John Pelander.
Beene, a Republican, is currently a judge on the Division I Court of Appeals, which means this appointment opens up another spot Ducey will have to fill this year. Ducey in only his fifth year as governor is already poised to overtake the number of appointments made by former Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt, who appointed more judges than any other governor in the past 40 years.
In such a short time, Ducey also has the most Supreme Court appointments than any other governor in the state’s history, and he won’t stop there. Chief Justice Scott Bales, the only Democrat on the court, announced he would retire this summer, which means Ducey would have appointed five of seven of the justices on the bench.
In a prepared statement, Ducey said, “[Beene] has a strong record as a public servant in all three branches of government, most recently as a trial court judge and as an appellate court judge. These experiences make him exceptionally qualified for this position. I am pleased to appoint Judge Beene to the Supreme Court of Arizona.”
Beene was picked over two of his colleagues on the Court of Appeals: Kent Cattani, a Republican and Maria Elena Cruz, a Democrat. Also in consideration was Richard Gordon a Pima County Superior Court judge and Andrew Jacobs an attorney at Snell & Wilmer.
Good news is still in store for the four candidates not picked. Since Bales will be retiring in July, they are automatically in consideration later this year when that seat will be filled.
Before Beene was a Court of Appeals judge, a position Ducey appointed him to in 2016, he served on the Maricopa County Superior Court for seven years where he presided over criminal, family, and juvenile cases.
The decision to appoint Beene is somewhat historic one as he is now the second Hispanic/Latino justice to serve on the state’s highest court. Beene is Hispanic/Latino on his mother’s side and Caucasian on his father’s, according to his application to the court. Ducey appointed the first Latino justice in Arizona when he chose Justice John Lopez in 2016 after the court expanded from five to seven justices.
Beene has played a role in some controversial cases.
Last year he agreed to allow some new hurdles put in the path of initiative circulators to remain on the books, at least for the time being.
Beene, who wrote the opinion for the three-judge appellate court, did not dispute the contention of challengers that a 2017 statute approved by GOP lawmakers requiring strict compliance with all election laws could keep some individuals and groups from crafting their own laws and asking voters to approve them.
But Beene said the court cannot rule on the issue because no one was actually being penalized at the time — and no initiative was at risk of being thrown off the ballot — for failing to comply with the new standard, meaning the case is not yet “ripe” for a decision.
He also wrote a ruling upholding a lower court decision that heterosexual couples who have always had the right to marry in Arizona are not entitled to the same benefits provided to gay couples who, at the time, were not entitled to wed. Beene said refusing to recognize a woman’s claim she was the domestic partner of her boyfriend was not illegal discrimination.
Beene sided with the majority in a split decision earlier this year that said a divorced woman is entitled to implant some fertilized embryos created before she was married despite the objections of her former husband who does not want children.
But he also found himself in the minority in a ruling last year where the other two appellate judges said it was OK for a criminal defense attorney to refer to someone as the “alleged victim.”
Beene said Arizona law provides crime victims with substantive pre-trial rights, including the right to be referred to as the “victim.” And he said that does not impair the right of a defendant to get a fair trial.
Now that Ducey has made his fourth appointment to the supreme court, he can begin to focus on his fifth pick this summer.
According to Blanca Moreno, the judicial nominating commission administrator, the application period to fill Bales’ seat will likely begin in May. Bales will officially retire on July 31 and then beginning in September, he will lead the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System in Denver, joining former Chief Justice Ruth McGregor. The IAALS is an independent research center that is dedicated to advancing and improving excellence in the American legal system. One of its projects advocates for states to implement a merit selection process for judicial nominees similar to the one in Arizona.
Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include information on cases judge Beene has been involved.