On Tuesday, June 25, 2024, Tucson.com reported that an Arizona judge recused himself from deciding a case regarding a ballot measure that would impact judges’ terms in office.

The measure, placed on the November ballot by the Republican-controlled state legislature, seeks to eliminate Arizona’s 50-year system of requiring judges appointed by the governor to later stand for reelection. If approved by voters, it would allow judges to remain in office until the mandatory retirement age of 70 without facing voters again. However, a lawsuit was filed challenging whether the measure’s title is misleading and if it violates the single-subject rule for ballot measures.

The lawsuit had been assigned to Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Randall Warner. But during the first hearing, Warner stepped away from the case, acknowledging he would have a stake in the outcome. If the measure passed, Warner would no longer have to seek retention when his current term ends in 2026.

Warner noted that all judges in Arizona’s largest counties are part of the same retain-reject system as him. This means any judge could claim a conflict in presiding over the case, as they too would financially benefit from not facing reelection if the measure passes.

With the case needing to be reassigned, the question arose of who could fairly judge it. Warner suggested a rural county judge or retired judge, as they would not be subject to the current voter retention process. However, the case is almost certain to eventually reach the Arizona Supreme Court. Two of the seven justices currently face reelection and would benefit from the measure’s retroactive application if approved, giving them an immediate stake in the outcome.

The precedent of temporarily replacing conflicted justices was cited, such as when a special Supreme Court was formed to hear a case impacting judges’ pensions. This could be a potential solution if all justices are seen as compromised. For now, Warner has mandated briefings move forward while a new judge is determined to ensure the case can be decided before early September ballots are finalized.



Source: Tucson.com