Pinal County’s accelerated growth harbors problems

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.


12 Responses to Pinal County’s accelerated growth harbors problems

  1. Lone Star Transplant says:

    I live in Pinal County. Looks like we are about to be screwed without a kiss. Who holds the reins on this issue?

  2. Villanova says:

    Good post, fine conclusions. The majority of elected judges in the “out-counties” are excellent. They exhibit little, if any, of the haughtiness seen on the bench in Pima or Maricopa. They coach their kid’s teams, interact at service organizations and serve on church committees—alongside their neighbors.

    Merit selection was promoted as a method to put the best and brightest on the bench. That is not entirely accurate. In many instances, ‘diversity’ has taken the place of actual qualifications. The applicant’s political party and/or having a friend in the governor’s office trumps all else. This system is far from pristine—regardless of what the proponents would have us believe.

    People in the 13 of our 15 counties who still have the ability to elect their judges don’t want that right taken from them. This is an important issue. Those controlling the process will continue to throw up smokescreens to obscure the truth.

    Fight like hell to keep your vote. A few people in a meeting room in no way represent the wishes of the entire voting public.

  3. Joe Evans says:

    Why is all of the biographical information and the photos of the judges down? Whose decision was that?

    A few years ago, my niece had to appear in court on a criminal matter. She was a witness to a crime and very peripheral. Still, I remember how reassuring it was to her to be able to see a bit about the judge and realize that she (the judge) had a similar undergraduate background to my niece’s and to have an idea of what she looked like before entering the courtroom–which is a pretty intimidating place for most people.

    The removal of this information, especially when all of the other elected officials and Supreme Court Justices have it available, just points to the elitism of the bench. We pay their salaries. They work for us. Why are they inaccessible even on this remote level? I imagine they would say they are concerned for their safety. If that is the case, they ought to be practicing law in a firm. Are other public servants also fearful? They are not in hiding. Quite frankly, I find this inaccessibility–even on this level–infuriating.

  4. Jay Bird says:

    I hope people read and understand the seriousness and timeliness of this issue. I come from a county with elected judges. It is a far better system. No panel of a few appointees with agendas can represent me. I’ll cast my own vote, thank you very much.

  5. Celia says:

    Serious? I’d say so. This is not a good situation for Pinal or any of the other counties reaching the population levels that will toss them into this unholy mix. I recall when Home Rule was being pushed on the county level. They started out by telling us there was no point in electing the mine inspector. Soon, the list of those they wanted to appoint included the county attorney, the sheriff and all of the county officials. They called them “line officers” in an effort to marginalize them.

    Too many have given up too much to ensure our freedom to vote. Let’s not be so eager to turn it over to some select panel who tells us they can do a better job of selecting ANY officeholder than We The People can.

    Judges are not Gods. They are civil servants.

  6. Sideliner says:

    Elitists gone wild!

  7. Jack says:

    I hope this informative article gets seen by the citizens of Pinal county who may be completely unaware of the fate awaiting them–that of removing their constitutional right to vote.

    This is not small potatoes, folks. Click on the title of this column and then forward that link to your friends in Pinal county and the other rapidly growing counties that will soon fall off this same cliff. In a nutshell, what this means is that your vote if taken and Janet Napolitano or another governor appoints the judges you are currently voting for. You lose your voice and your vote to a politician.

  8. Kent says:

    How arrogant to remove the information on the judges. That should be available to the public. Did they forget they work for us? All other office holders have biographical information along with their photos on their websites. I looked at those links in the past when I was appearing in court, and didn’t realize it had all been removed.

    We pay them but can’t know who they are? The Lone Ranger wore a black mask, but the judges hide in their black robes. What a country!

  9. Thomas says:

    I’ve lived with both systems. Nothing beats elections! Don’t let the powers that be tell you otherwise. Believe me, they will try. Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. The state bar, judges and governor, all want to control this system and don’t want to give the citizens an inch on this important issue.

    Once Pinal and the other counties reaching the point where their population growth places them in the appointment rather than election process, it will be all over. Right now there are only two AZ counties in this deplorable situation. Please don’t let this get passed on incrementally until the whole state follows the appointment method. KEEP YOUR VOTE!! IT’S PRECIOUS.

  10. Jeff says:

    They’ll tell you there are too many judges and the people can’t possibly know enough about them to vote intelligently. They’ll tell you that the select committees have the information we don’t have. They’ll tell you to calm down and trust the system that’s been in effect for years.

    That’s a load of BS–not deserving of trust.

    If voters don’t have access to pertinent information, provide it–in an impartial manner. That does NOT include the Judicial Performance Review handbook that is part and parcel of the current system. It is smoke and mirrors to give an illusion of review and openness, but is an insider construction.

    This is a scam controlled by lawyers and judges who want anything but openness. They’ll tell you this is an open system, but the facts tell a different story.

  11. Virginia says:

    Who, besides the lawyer, judges and state bar, favors this appointment system over elections? This is a good and informative post. I also read the included link to the governor’s past list of political appointees. Although it clearly tells of the political and backroom nature of this process, it is no surprise. I expect nothing else from this governor. Apparently, the only deserving applicants are Democrats?

  12. When I worked at the former Arizona Board of Pardons and Paroles researching cases for the Parole Board years ago, I noticed that the sentences handed down by rural directly elected Superior Court judges were more harsh, especially when it came to sex offenders and violent offenders. I saw far more plea bargains done in Maricopa and Pima counties – sort of production line justice.
    A Superior Court judge can reject a plea bargain.
    Now my impressions are not scientific, but it did make a profound impression on me that the directly elected judges were tougher on the really bad guys.
    Perhaps the 34 year try with judicial appointment needs to go away and we get tough on bad people. I know we have a budget crisis in Arizona, but I would not mind my tax dollars going to lock up violent and sex offenders. And I would not mind having tough judges who were responsive to the population just asking for the law to be enforced.