Merit Selection of Judges?


Arizona Republic columnist, Laurie Roberts, has written a fine exposé of the Maricopa Trial Court selection system that is currently underway to fill eight new judicial vacancies.

Roberts reveals one Democrat applicant, Superior Court Commissioner Sheila Madden, viewed as a toutable advantage to include on her application the fact that she played a key role in usurping the will of 78 percent of Arizona voters within days of passage of Proposition 100—which denied bail to illegal immigrants accused of serious crimes. On her application, Madden actually refers to her decision to bypass the law as, “demanding and interesting.” As Roberts correctly points out, a better choice of words to describe her intend to subvert the will of the people, might be “embarrassing or even galling.”

Madden’s “don’t ask” policy was short-lived.. The highest ranking judge in the state, Chief Justice Ruth McGregor, weighed in on the issue declaring it admissible to inquire about immigration status when setting bail.

Madden’s judicial application caught the eye of Sen. Linda Gray (R – Dist. 10), who spearheaded the effort to ensure the courts enforce the provisions of Prop. 100. Gray was energized enough to send a letter to the Maricopa County Commission on Trial Court Appointments. Sen. Gray wrote, “While we understand the court must retain its independence and neutrality, the choice to stop gathering immigration status information on defendants after approval of Proposition 100 must seriously call into question Commissioner Madden’s judgment.”

The problem, however, is compounded by the Merit Selection process, itself. Madden, a Democrat, will be interviewed by a commission of 10 public members and five attorney members, configured in this lopsided manner:

Public Members:

4 Democrats

2 registered “Independents” (Good way to conceal true political leanings.)

3 Republicans   including one formerly Republican Supervisoral District Two position, which has been mysteriously unfilled by Gov. Napolitano. Additionally, the term of one the three remaining Republicans listed expired January 19, 2004.
Attorney Members:

3 Democrats

2 Republicans

It will be interesting to see whether Democrat applicant Madden will curry the favor of the skewed commission and be sent along to the Governor for consideration for a Superior Court judgeship.


  1. boredinaz says

    Those seats are vacant because no one applies. Although the governor makes appointments, anyone she names must be confirmed by the Senate.

    If you’re interested, apply!!!

  2. bored in az,

    No one has an interest in a lifetime appointment vacancy for over four years? thats a crock. Senate confirmation is almost automatic and the excuse that we should use the “Merit Selection” process because it eliminates pollitical pressure on the judiciary is ludicrous and patently false.

    I have seen that process up close and personal and the political pressure is still there it just shifted to the private, secret board rooms of the large law firms instead of the public arena where there is some transparency.

    Partisan races for judges work well in thirteen of our fifteen counties with only Pima and Maricopa doing the “Merit” system. Do you think it is coincidental that those counties are the home of the giant law firms in this state that like to influence everything?

  3. Villanova says

    The seats on the trial court commission are vacant because they have not been filled by the corresponding district supervisors. It is a highly political process and not simply a matter of applying. You are disseminating faulty information.

    You need to read a bit more, attend a screening and interview meeting and maybe you’ll be less bored. I can’t guarantee you’ll be more knowledgeable, though. There’s a lot that goes on out of public view.

  4. boredinaz says

    You’re right. It’s so much easier just to sit behind a computer and complain about all the evil forces conspiring against you (like the governor, anonymous “giant law firms” and Republican county supervisors) than to actually get up off your duff and do something about it.

    My bad.

  5. Villanova says

    Judicial selection is serious business. Many of the decisions rendered, most notably on the appellate level (AZ Supreme Court and both divisions of the Court of Appeals), affect each and every one of us.

    The fact that the selecting commissions (they are the bodies that screen, interview and send lists to the appointing governor) are so skewed to the left should be enough to energize even the most lethargic, such as our friend, “boredinaz.” Regrettably, this travesty doesn’t appear to be on the radar screen of most Arizonans.

    Governor Napolitano knows exactly what she is doing in this regard, and the long-lasting impact the interviewing commissions have. Commissioners serve staggered four-year terms.

  6. bored in

    I have personal experience in this process, so just because someone participates on-line does not mean that is all they do.

    Go back and research (I have) who lobbied for this system and who continues to lobby to continue this system anytime a bill is put in the hopper to change the system in Mcpa and Pima to come into alignment with the other thirteen counties.

    I might suggest you also research the explanations of votes of the non-Maricopa County legislators in committee as well as on the floor. It is enlightening.

    After you do your research instead of knee-jerk simplistic poppy-cock, you might have a different opinion of people whom you do not know who are “just sitting at a computer complaining about evil forces”. In addition, it might inspire you to get up off your duff on a more regular basis and research the background of a situation before you overload your knowledge circuit.

  7. kralmajales says

    Bored in Arizona is correct…as is part of this post…but part of it only.

    There are unfilled vacancies on these commissions and they can be due to the fact that a supervisor does not fill one. That is a travesty. The courts have asked these supervisors to appoint someone and they haven’t. Members of the commission also feel it is a travesty. They want colleagues. It is very hard work.

    But to take that to the next stage and say the fix is in and that it is dominated by liberals is patently false. Besides using these facts to bully the system, why don’t you attend a commission meeting and see how it is really run.

    Bored in Arizona is right. You should apply to be a commissioner and if objectionable commissioners are nominated then the Senate Judiciary Committee, dominated by Republicans and Senator Gray (no friend of the merit system) should simply not confirm them.

    This system is, in fact, a check on the Governor. She must pick off a list of 3 or more. She cannot pick who she wants. The process is also designed so judges do not have to run for office in partisan campaigns where the end up beholdened to special interests. That is fine in our other branches but this one is different.

    Remember the judge in Texas who was to hear the case of Tom Delay? He was taken to task and his credibility damaged because we found out he was part of Move That is exactly why elections are far inferior to this process. Not ones money controls it…no ads control it. Only a bunch of good people who argue over primarily an application…a history of work…and not who gets the most votes or says the right thing.

    Last, on the process not being open…that is complete BS. Anyone can attend, deliberation and decisions are made in public. The public can comment on objectionable nominees.

    Attend a Commission meeting. Show up. Let your feelings be heard.

    By the way, again, I will back you on those who do not appoint commissioners. That is ridiculous. One in Pima is Ramon Valdez. IF you are in his district, apply. Call his office and demand that he make an appointment.

    I have.

  8. kralmajales says

    And where is the evidence that the commissions are so skewed to the left? 3 independents does not mean liberal.

    Are the Republicans on the commission always in the minority?

    Finally, the best part of this process is that of the 15 commissioners, 10 are public and only 5 are lawyers. That is a real check on the system.

    This is a great system. It has flaws, but the attacks made here are completely off base and the single examples used to sully this process are unfair.

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