Contact: Rick DeBruhl, Chief Communications Officer
Phone: 602-340-7335, Mobile: 602-513-6385

New Bill Lets Voters Weigh-in on Merit Selection

PHOENIX - For the first time since 1992 Arizona voters will have the chance to make changes to the way we select and retain judges. Senate Concurrent Resolution 1001 passed out of the legislature last week and will be on the general ballot in November of 2012.

SCR 1001 is a result of negotiations between the State Bar of Arizona, the Arizona Supreme Court, and the Arizona Judges Association along with House and Senate leaders. Initially there were several bills introduced in the Senate which would have made major changes to the merit selection process. Ultimately those bills did not move forward.

According to State Bar President Alan Bayham, "This compromise preserved merit selection, which is what we all were working so hard to do.  Early proposals by the legislature eliminated the Bar entirely from the process. I am especially pleased that the Bar continues under this compromise to play an important part in merit selection and in some ways a more direct and enhanced role."

Before describing the changes, it's important to point out what will not change:

• Merit selection for Maricopa and Pima (and soon to be Pinal) Counties continues.

• Judicial Nominating Commissions continue.

• There is no Senate confirmation of judicial appointments.

If passed by the voters, SCR 1001 will change both the Bar's involvement as well as the way judges are retained:

• The State Bar will have a designated seat on each of the court commissions which will be appointed by the Bar's President. Through that appointment, the Bar will be in a position to directly influence the discussion and ultimately the nomination of judicial candidates that go to the Governor for consideration.  This seat is one of the five lawyer positions (which already exist) on each commission. As in the past, the other four lawyer positions will be appointed by the Governor. The Bar's role in vetting the four lawyers appointed by the Governor for the commissions would be limited to collecting and reviewing applications, and then forwarding all of them with recommendations to the Governor. In the past, the Bar's nominating committee only forwarded a limited number of applications which passed a merit screening.

• Increases the qualifications for lawyer members of the commission to: 10 years of practice, good standing and no formal disciplinary complaints or formal sanctions.

• Increases judicial terms to 8 years.

• Increases retirement age for judges from 70 to75.

• Increases number of names commissions must send to the Governor from 3 to at least 8; and for multiple vacancy situations involving the same court, it reduces the number to 6 with the additional limitation that a person cannot be submitted for more than one vacancy. There is, however, a provision which would allow fewer names if candidates do not receive a 2/3rds vote from the commission. The Governor, however, could make an appointment from any of the nominees presented for any of the vacancies in that court. 

• Requires the Supreme Court to make all opinions and orders accessible to the public on its website.

• Creates a joint legislative committee that may conduct hearings on judges prior to retention elections. These hearings, however, are strictly informational.

State Bar Executive Director/CEO John Phelps says the bill protects the strengths of the current system.  "The art of compromise requires you to give to get," says Phelps. " I think the ultimate resolution reflects just that-we gave up our ability to limit the number of attorney applicants the Governor can consider for appointment to each commissions, but gained a Bar-designated seat on each commission and retained the overall merit selection process. A pretty good deal in my opinion."

You can read more about SCR 1001 here.


About the State Bar
The State Bar of Arizona is a non-profit organization that operates under the supervision of the Arizona Supreme Court. The Bar includes approximately 16,000 active attorneys and provides education and development programs for the legal profession and the public. Since 1933 the Bar and its members have been committed to serving the public by making sure the voices of all people in Arizona are heard in our justice system.

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