Each Sunday, ABC15.com debuts an Arizona issue - along with two opposing sides on the topic.
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As election season heats up, we're taking a look at the arguments surrounding Proposition 115 . The measure, also known as the Arizona Judicial Selection Amendment, aims to change the way our state's judges and justices are selected and how long they serve.
Peter Gentala -- Counsel to the Majority, Arizona House of Representatives -- argues that added transparency and accountability are among the improvements Prop. 115 will bring to our state.
Tucson attorney JoJene Mills, head of the No on Prop 115 committee, argues that the proposition injects politics into the judiciary process and erodes a system that has been working efficiently since the 1970s.
So, what do you think?
Click "Next" to read the first of two positions, "Improving the way we choose our judges - YES on 115"
Improving the way we choose our judges - YES on 115 : By Peter Gentala, Counsel to the Majority, Arizona House of Representatives
How we select our judges matters. The men and women who wear the robes play a powerful role in the everyday lives of Arizonans. Money changes hands, justice is dispensed, and lives are changed forever--all with the bang of the gavel. This means we have to pay attention to how we select our judges--we can’t afford not to. We also need a real opportunity to make an informed decision when cast our vote when deciding whether sitting judges will be retained.
Right now, we have a chance to significantly improve the way judges are selected. Proposition 115 is a consensus measure that improves the way we select judges by adding transparency and accountability. Prop. 115 also meets a serious need by providing voters with more information about the judges they see on the ballot. Proposition 115 is a result of a collaborative effort between the State Bar of Arizona, the Arizona Judicial Council, the Arizona Judges Association, the Arizona Legislature, and Governor Brewer.
Proposition 115 improves transparency by making sure that more qualified candidates are considered. Currently, qualified candidates are frequently blocked from consideration by an unelected, unaccountable commission. Prop 115 changes this by requiring the commission to pass on at least 8 names of qualified candidates to the Governor. This change will place the focus where it belongs, on the qualifications of the men and women who aspire to become judges.
Voters are often frustrated by lack of information available on the judges they see on the ballot. Prop. 115 addresses this problem by making more information available and equipping voters to make an informed decision. This is the age of Google. There is no reason why detailed information about the decisions of the judges you see on the ballot cannot be made available to help you cast an informed vote.
Critics of Prop. 115 claim that it will insert politics into the process. Don’t believe it. The current system allows lawyers and powerful insiders to control the process and effectively dictate who becomes a judge in Arizona. In fact, Arizona’s largest law firms have paid thousands of dollars to defeat Proposition 115. This is partisan politics at its worst. Proposition 115 breaks up the insiders game by ensuring that qualified applicants will be considered in a transparent and accountable process.
Finally, Prop. 115 allows current judges to serve with distinction beyond the age of 70. Currently, judges in Arizona must resign when they reach the age of 70. That’s way too early. In fact, 4 out of the current 9 Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States are already older than 70. Arizona will be well served by allowing judges to serve with excellence beyond the age of 70.
Transparency, accountability, more information for voters, and a renewed focus on selecting qualified candidates. These are the improvements Prop. 115 will bring to the way judges are selected in Arizona. These commonsense improvements are supported by the prestigious organizations that represent the interests of all lawyers and judges in the Arizona. On the other hand, these improvements are opposed by some of Arizona’s largest law firms--who apparently feel they have something to lose by added transparency and accountability.
I hope you will join me in supporting Proposition 115. To learn more about this important ballot measure please visit www.YesOnProp115.com .
Do you agree with this opinion? Add a comment below to sound off.
Click "Next" to read the second position, "Why voters should reject Proposition 115"
Why voters should reject Proposition 115: By JoJene Mills, Tucson attorney and head of the No On Prop 115 committee
Arizona’s long-standing reputation for a legal system immune from political whims of state leaders is threatened this November.
Voters around the state must decide whether to enact a drastic and reckless change to the merit selection process for selecting judges.
In 1974, voters approved merit selection and changed for the better the way judges in the state’s highest and most populous courts make their way to the bench. Fifteen-member commissions, consisting of attorney members and appointments from the governor, receive applications for vacancies in Maricopa and Pima counties as well as the Appeals Court and Supreme Court. Because of population growth, Pinal County will begin seating judges under the merit selection process.
The process is designed to reduce the influence of politics to the extent practicable. A governor appoints 10 commission members and the State Bar appoints the remaining five members. All are subject to Senate confirmation.
After reviewing resumes and interviewing candidates, the commissions hold public hearings to select the three most qualified candidates, with no more than two coming from the same political party.
The three finalists are sent to the governor for consideration and appointment to the bench. Just three finalists are selected by the panel to ensure that only qualified applicants proceed.
For two generations, Arizona’s merit selection has served as a model for other states around the country.
After nearly 40 years, backers of the initiative want to send Arizona’s judiciary into a new, politically charged direction.
Under Prop 115, a governor would appoint 14 out of 15 members of the nominating commissions, effectively eliminating any input by the state’s legal profession. Gaining near total control of the commission ensures a governor’s political interests are served but not the public’s interest.
In addition, one of the most significant changes by Prop. 115 is the commissions would be required to nominate 8 rather than three judges to a governor for consideration. The current number of three allows the commission to separate the wheat from the chaff. For some judicial vacancies, just eight or fewer people apply. So nearly anyone who applies for a seat on the bench will get forwarded to the governor for consideration. And gone would be the requirement to send nominees from more than one political party.
This is not the vision of merit selection that professionals designed in the 1970s as a way to instill fairness in the selection process.
Backers of Prop. 115 want to intentionally inject politics into our judiciary. Gubernatorial friends and cronies will be able to successfully navigate the selection process. The mechanisms that allow the commission to weed out undesirable or unqualified candidates would be gone.
Arizona deserves, and in fact needs, a judiciary as free from political interference as possible. Prop. 115 rolls back the clock and erodes a merit selection process proven effective throughout the years. I urge voters to reject this insidious dismantling of merit selection.
Do you agree with this opinion? Add a comment below to sound off.
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