Population increase will signal an end to judicial accountability as elections are replaced by appointments
New figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show Pinal county’s 299,246 residents as of July 1, 2007, represent an 11.5 percent increase from the same time a year earlier. And since the 2000 census, the population is up 65 percent. The Arizona Daily Star covers the explosive growth.
Bur, there is much more at stake in the stark realities underlying this news. Seeing Red AZ carried a revealing look at merit selection last year. As of the 2010 census, Pinal county voters will have their ability to elect judges wrenched from them and awarded to a panel of their hypothetical stand-ins.
The process of merit selection of judges incorporates a population threshold of 250,000. Arizona’s two most populous counties, Maricopa and Pima, have their superior court judges selected by panels of lawyers and citizens presided over by a voting Arizona Supreme Court Justice, ostensibly representing the voters. A similar panel interviews judicial applicants for the Arizona Supreme Court and the state courts of appeals. A list of not more than 2/3 of one political party is then sent to the governor, who makes the final selection to fill vacancies or new judicial divisions. Check out the link above for an indication of how the system functions.
Voters are told they still have a voice on the judicial ‘retention’ ballot. What they are not told is that no judge has been ousted through that process in over thirty years. Merit selection simply conceals its very political nature with a series of overlays that protect the coveted system.
The vast majority of Arizona counties—thirteen out of fifteen, continue to elect their judges. This practice has produced a quality bench, where judges actually are accountable to, and interact with, the people, rather than assuming the role of an untouchable elite.
Inexplicably, all of the biographical information and photos of Maricopa County’s Superior Court Judges have recently been removed. Yet all other officials have their information available. The Governor, Attorney General, Maricopa County Attorney and Sheriff are easily located. Such information is even accessible for Arizona’s Supreme Court Justices.
Voters will be told that accepting campaign money from lawyers who appear before judges is unethical. There are numerous ways to circumvent that. However, such an argument does cast a dark cloud over the fine judges currently elected in the vast majority of Arizona counties.