Ariz. Vice Chief Justice John Pelander

Ariz. Vice Chief Justice John Pelander

An event this Saturday, April 18, brings together legal leaders and others to assess the experiences of the most recent Arizona county to use the judicial merit-selection system.

Pinal County is the place, and the event will be held at the Holiday Inn in Casa Grande, Ariz.

The speakers will include retired Ariz. Chief Justice Ruth McGregor and State Bar President Richard Platt. Lunchtime remarks will be delivered by Vice Chief Justice John Pelander.

The event runs from 8:00 am to 3:30 pm, and it’s free. Breakfast and lunch will be served. But registration is required, which you can do here.

That page also includes the complete program and list of speakers.

It is sponsored by numerous groups, including the State Bar of ArizonaArizona Advocacy Network and Justice at Stake. The organizers clearly want the conversation to range beyond the county line; they indicate the day’s dialogue will include “Pinal County’s judicial system, AZ’s Merit Selection System and national cases impacting Fair and Impartial Courts.”

My understanding is that the Court and the State Bar have had a difficult time encouraging attorneys to forward their names to be considered for the judicial nominating commission in Pinal County. The system has been used in other counties for a long time, but it may be getting its sea legs in Pinal. Perhaps forums like this will spread the word about merit selection’s value.

Arizona Superior Court for Pinal County

Yesterday, a press release came to my inbox, and it took me a moment to realize that it signaled a historic event.

Typically, when the State Bar of Arizona seeks lawyer applicants for an appellate court or trial court appointment commission, it is a routine event (though it is a prestigious appointment). For example, the Maricopa and Pima County Trial Court Appointment Commissions have been around a long time. In the decades since the merit-selection and retention system was instituted in 1974, many lawyers have served the state by participating in the work of those boards.

(For more detail on merit selection, go here.)

So when something’s been operating for almost four decades, I hope you’ll forgive me for almost missing a related press releases as it sails by me. To my surprise, I spotted the fact that this is not more of the same, but it is about a new commission entirely: the Pinal County Commission on Trial Court Appointments. With that commission, Pinal County joins the ranks of more-populous Arizona counties in their manner of selecting state court trial judges.

The notion of extending the merit-selection system is not without controversy, but the change comes simply through an increasing population. Once the county exceeded 250,000 people, a commission would be formed, as required by the Arizona Constitution.

In the September issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine, we will have a great article on merit selection’s history and new developments, written by the State Bar’s CEO John Phelps and lawyer Kellen Bradley. In the meantime, read about this historic development in Pinal County. And if you are a lawyer in Pinal, you should consider applying to be part of the inaugural panel of this commission. There’s only one first.

Here’s the release:

Applications Being Accepted for Newly Forming Pinal County Commission on Trial Court Appointments

PHOENIX – Aug. 21, 2012 – The State Bar of Arizona, the State’s attorney regulation and consumer protection organization, is currently accepting applications to fill five lawyer openings on the Pinal County Commission on Trial Court Appointments. Results from the 2010 U.S. Census, which reported that the population of Pinal County now exceeds 250,000, triggered the constitutional requirement to create a trial court commission.

The newly forming sixteen-member commission will be responsible for screening, interviewing and selecting judicial nominees for submission to the Governor of Arizona for her appointment of superior court judges in Pinal County. It will be chaired by the Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court (or her designee).

Applicants must be active members of, and in good standing with, the State Bar of Arizona; shall have resided in the state and been admitted to practice before the Arizona Supreme Court for no less than five (5) years; and must have resided in Pinal County for at least one year. There are no applicant restrictions with regard to one’s political party affiliation for these openings. 

Applications can be obtained at the State Bar of Arizona’s Appointment Committee webpage at http://www.azbar.org/sectionsandcommittees/committees/appointments. Completed applications must be submitted to Nina Benham at the State Bar of Arizona by 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. Applications can be delivered in person to 4201 N. 24th Street, Suite 100, Phoenix, Arizona 85016-6266; or faxed to 602.416.7529; or submitted electronically via email to nina.benham@staff.azbar.org.

About the State Bar of Arizona Appointments Committee

The mission of the committee is to recommend to the Board of Governors the appointment of members to fill openings on state-wide boards, committees and commissions. Achieve a “balance” in all appointments as they relate to each voluntary professional activity, i.e., age, gender, geography, ethnicity, area of practice. The Committee and the Board of Governors consider all aspects of diversity in their recommendations and appointments.

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 17,000 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.