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Attorney who plagiarized U.S. justices revises application for court appointment

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch during his confirmation hearing in 2017. (Wikimedia Commons)

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch during his confirmation hearing in 2017. (Wikimedia Commons)

The attorney who plagiarized U.S. Supreme Court justices in her quest for a spot on the Arizona Court of Appeals has revised her application to delete the offending passages.

Kristina Reeves, an attorney in private practice and a former Arizona assistant attorney general, submitted the revisions Tuesday after the suspicious text caught the eye of Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales.

She replaced the plagiarized passages with a cluster of name-dropping of Supreme Court  justices she failed to cite the first time around, including Warren Burger, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Antonin Scalia.

An Arizona Capitol Times investigation found several instances proving Reeves directly copy and pasted passages from speeches by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito.

In an email early on June 12, Blanca Moreno, the Judicial Nominating Commission administrator, informed Reeves of the plagiarism, saying the lawyer quoted “verbatim from Justice Neil Gorsuch’s 2017 opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

Reeves stole multiple passages of Gorsuch’s confirmation speech, altering it minimally to suit her gender. In a passage stolen from Gorsuch’s speech, Reeves wrote that she wants to don the “honest black polyester” robe and become part of an honest judiciary.

“Putting on a robe should remind a judge that it’s time to lose her ego, and open her mind,” she wrote.

Gorsuch also mentioned “honest black polyester.” Reeves removed that from her answer.

In another passage that was minimally changed from the previous version, Reeves parrots Gorsuch and Alito without citing either, leaving in phrases like “words matter” and that a judge has a responsibility to “apply the law based on the words in the law.” Reeves also didn’t attribute the idea that “a legal case is not just a number or a name; it is a person, it is a life story.”

Likewise, she said “obligation to follow the law wherever it goes, means that a judge will reach decisions that she does not like.”

The opening paragraph was made up of 120 consecutive words she plagiarized from Gorsuch.

The U.S. Supreme Court did not respond to a request for comment.

Moreno said in an email to Reeves that Bales asked her to bring the matter to Reeves’ attention “in the event you have additional information in this regard that you would like the Nominating Commission to consider.”

Reeves replied seven minutes later saying it was not her intention to include anything “inappropriate” in her statement, adding that while she does not believe there is anything in the statement that is “improper,” she would prefer to “eliminate any concern.”

Reeves eventually responded with her modified answer, saying she attempted to remove any language she thought could “possibly be viewed as similar to anything any justice has said.”

Her original answer included 400 words out of roughly 1,000 that were directly lifted from the two justices.  

Mark Harrison, an attorney whose practice includes defending attorneys at the State Bar, said it’s not certain if this type of offense would warrant a Bar charge, but he thinks it is definitely warranted.

“She did something most of us would consider dishonest,” he said.  “The only issue is who will file it? People responsible for application process might. Anybody can file it, really. The Bar can file one itself.”

When a charge is filed, the Bar goes through a preliminary screening stage and decides if it’s a matter the Bar has jurisdiction over. It then would send Reeves a letter asking for her explanation on why she did this in the first place. If the Bar is not satisfied with her reasoning, the two parties can come to a consent agreement, Harrison said.

The first sanction would be an admonition, then a probation, and after that would be a reprimand, but none of the three would involve a suspension of her law license.

A suspension could be anywhere from 30 days to four years, and the worst sanction is disbarment – which is five years.

“I can’t imagine this would trigger that kind of a sanction,” Harrison said.

Reeves did not respond to several attempts for comment.

Issuing a supplement to an application is not rare; three others seeking the Court of Appeals vacancy had to do the same, but the others are minor in comparison.

Rusty Crandell, who currently works in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, inadvertently answered “no” instead of “yes” on a question of whether he is physically and mentally able to perform the essential duties of a judge.

Andrew Jacobs updated his application with new information since his previous application for Justice John Pelander’s vacancy.

And Jay Polk, a judge on the Maricopa County Superior Court, had issues hyperlinking to email addresses for attorneys he mentioned in his application.

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