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Judge takes flak for decision against school tax measure

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Backers of a measure to tax the rich for public education called Judge Christopher Coury’s decision to strike it from the ballot “politically motivated” and are calling for his removal in November’s retention election. 

Arizona uses a merit selection process to appoint judges to four county superior courts and three appellate branches (two divisions of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court) and allow voters to retain them. 

In 2018, there was an effort to oust Arizona Supreme Court Justice John Pelander and Justice Clint Bolick since they were the only justices on the ballot after voting in a 5-2 decision to toss out that year’s attempt at taxing the rich to fund public schools. Pelander and Bolick survived and Pelander retired in 2019. 

Losing retention is rare, and has only happened once since 1978, when Benjamin Norris lost in 2014, but that won’t stop backers from trying.

Progressive lobbyist Geoff Esposito and Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale were among those who tweeted about Coury being up for retention. 

“Judge Coury and his #INVESTinED decision was the reason why the ‘NO’ option was created on the ballots for the retention of Superior Court judges. Vote accordingly this November,” Quezada wrote. 

Norris, a judge in Maricopa County, was voted out largely in part due to his judicial performance review from his peers who said he was unfit to serve. Coury, on the other hand, received a perfect score from 33 of his peers. 

Coury’s Invest in Ed decision, depending on what the Supreme Court ultimately decides, could be the biggest decision he made that will motivate Maricopa County voters to try to oust him.  

Coury recently applied for a position on the Court of Appeals, but Gov. Doug Ducey chose Cynthia Bailey instead. Coury has been relentless in his career for court appointments, so it’s likely he will try again. It took him eight tries to land on the Superior Court after Gov. Janet  Napolitano turned him down six times and Gov. Jan Brewer appointed him on his second attempt during her term. 

He has served on the court since 2010 and has heard many cases, but recently he has come under fire in legal and education circles for his “political” decision that kicked Invest in Ed off the ballot, but it’s far from his first controversial decision of late.

In June, he sided with Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Health Services against media organizations in a lawsuit seeking information about the scope of outbreaks in nursing homes.

In July, Coury ruled in Ducey’s favor, blocking the eviction of tenants who weren’t paying rent during the pandemic, which is now up for appeal. He also settled a heated election challenge in 2018 over the petition of Mark Syms, husband of former lawmaker Maria Syms, who was trying to unseat Sen. Kate Brophy McGee in the Senate. 

Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, who supports Invest in Ed and wrote an amicus brief on its behalf, said he has known Coury and his family his “whole life,” but still believes he made the wrong call over the initiative ruling. 

But Woods said he didn’t think the decision was politically-motivated, it was just wrong. He said Arizona’s founders didn’t set up the laws and the Constitution to say, “If you collect enough signatures the petition becomes a law,” instead that “if you collect enough signatures voters can decide on the ballot.”

“So the idea that you could stifle all of that because you didn’t feel that the 100 word summary at the top of the petition was adequate is to me nonsense,” Woods said.

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