The state commission that vets the performance of judges has found one judge they say isn’t fit for the bench.
In a vote of the Commission on Judicial Performance Review, 15 of the commissioners voted that Stephen M. Hopkins of Maricopa County Superior Court “does not meet” judicial standards while seven said he did. Another seven commissioners did not vote.
Hopkins’ rating and those of 73 other judges who are up for retention on November 8 will be passed along to voters in Maricopa, Pima, Pinal and Coconino counties.
The commission gave nearly unanimous ratings of “does meet” standards for the rest of the judges, including three Supreme Court justices and five Court of Appeals judges.
It is rare for the commission to say a judge isn’t fit for the bench and even more rare for voters to fire a judge.
“If we find that a judge is not respectful, not courteous and is overbearing, a lot of the commissioners will not look kindly on that kind of behavior,” said Mike Hellon, the commission’s chair.
Hopkins’ rating may have been related to a 2020 reprimand from the Commission on Judicial Conduct, which found he violated three provisions of the Code on Judicial Conduct.
In February 2020, Maricopa County Public Defender James Haas and Barbara Marshall, a prosecutor and chairperson of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Ethics Committee, filed a lengthy complaint against Hopkins. The complaint accused Hopkins of impatient and impolite behavior toward defendants, prosecutors and attorneys.
Hopkins accused Haas and Marshall of cherry-picking video clips non-indicative of his overall demeanor, but he was ordered to complete behavioral training.
According to the complaint, six incidents were recorded between June 2019 and January 2020 of improper demeanor and denial of the right to be heard.
In one criminal case, Hopkins yelled at a prosecutor over the length of his cross-examination. When the prosecutor told Hopkins he did not know how long the cross-examination would take, Hopkins accused him of lying.
In another criminal case, the defense attorney arrived late. When she apologized for her lateness, Hopkins said that if she was late again, he would bring out the jury and have them sit and wait for her to arrive.
In other recorded incidents, Hopkins acted in an angry and hostile tone in the courtroom. According to the code, judges should act in a manner that promotes public confidence in independence, integrity and impartiality of the judicial system.
It also says that judges should be patient, dignified and courteous to all people whom the judge deals with officially. The complaint accused Hopkins of violating these provisions.
According to Hellon, all judges have turned in their retention paperwork this year, including Hopkins. This is notable because in 2016, one judge who got the “does not meet standards” rating did not turn in his paperwork, meaning he essentially quit the position instead of facing re-election and potentially losing his seat on the bench.
Hellon said that not turning in retention papers generally does not sit well with commissioners and is seen as a sign of arrogance.
In 2014, Benjamin Norris lost his job when the commission rated him as not meeting standards and voters later fired him. That year, Judge Catherine Woods of Pima County Superior Court was also ruled to have not met standards, but voters allowed her to stay and she holds her spot on the bench to this day.
Woods has maintained good ratings since then.
“What that tells me is she learned from the process,” Hellon said. “She learned what it was that the commission did … and she changed and became, frankly a better judge as a result.”