Panel narrows field for new Supreme Court justice

PHOENIX -- A special panel screening applicants for a vacancy on the Arizona Supreme Court has narrowed the list to nine.

In a meeting Monday, the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments concluded it would interview only nine of the dozen people who applied. That list will be whittled down on Nov. 20 to at least three from which Gov. Doug Ducey must choose.

And if the past is any guidance, Ducey will get at least two applicants who are Republicans as is he.

Berch, a Republican, officially retired at the end of last month. But court spokesperson Heather Murphy said Berch will remain on the bench to hear and decide cases as necessary until Ducey names her replacement.

Prior to 1974 all judges were directly elected in contested races. That year voters approved a system for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and the largest counties which has applicants apply for vacancies to special screening panels.

Those panels, in sending nominations to the governor, are required to provide political diversity.

Governors tend to select from both parties for lower court appointments. But only one governor has gone outside her party for the state's high court: Republican Jane Hull when she selected Democrat Ruth McGregor in 1998.

After selection by the governor, judges stand for reelection regularly on a retain-reject basis. If they are ousted by voters, the selection process begins again.

Rejection is rare.

Gary Nelson, a court of appeals judge from Maricopa County was ousted by voters in 1978 by more than 35,000 votes. That same year, Maricopa County voters also ousted Superior Court Judge Fred Hyder.

And last year Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Benjamin Norris lost his job when he was not retained.

The list to be interviewed includes:

• Clint Bolick, 57, from Maricopa County, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute. He has been a political independent since 2003 but prior to that was registered as a Republican;

• Michael Brown, 50, a Democrat from Navajo County who currently sits on the state Court of Appeals;

• Kent Cattani, 58, of Maricopa County, an appellate court judge and a Republican;

• Daisy Flores, 44, A Republican since 2001 but Democrat before that, she served 10 years as Gila County attorney before going in to private practice in Globe;

• Andrew Gould, 51, a Republican and former Yuma County Superior Court judge who now serves on the Court of Appeals;

• Maurice Portley, 61, a Democrat from Maricopa County who sits on the Court of Appeals;

• Timothy Thomason, 56, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge and a Republican;

• Samuel Thumma, 53, an appellate court judge, resident of Maricopa County, and Republican;

• Lawrence Winthrop, 63, a Maricopa County Democrat for 20 years before becoming a Republican in 1991 who sits on the Court of Appeals.

Written comments can be sent by Nov. 18 to 1501 W. Washington St., Suite 221, Phoenix, AZ 85007, or by email to jnc@courts.az.gov. The panel will not consider anonymous comments.

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