On Thursday, May 11, 2023, abc15 Arizona reported that the Arizona State Commission on Judicial Conduct, responsible for examining and penalizing judges, is committed to enhancing transparency in relation to private disciplinary measures and providing improved public awareness of its operations.
The Arizona Commission functions in accordance with the rules set by the Arizona Supreme Court, which includes an exemption from state public record laws. These rules designate the following documents of the commission as confidential: Correspondence, drafts, computer records, investigative reports, attorney work product, deliberations, and the majority of records in dismissed cases.
However, Executive Director of the commission, April Elliott confirmed that there will be changes including a new webpage section that will openly reveal previously confidential arrangements, in which the commission would drop complaints upon judges’ resignation.
“They did tell us that there have been times when they do ask a judge to resign and the case is later dismissed. This did seem very concerning,” Elliott said. “And I asked, ‘How can we be sure that that judge isn’t going to end up in another position of power where they are able to commit similar conduct?’”
Rep. Analise Ortiz said. “They essentially said that this process or this process is in the interest of justice because they are interested in getting the bad judge off the bench as quickly as possible and getting somebody better in that role. She continued, “I think it’s really concerning that this is happening with judges and we don’t know how often or why they might have been asked to step down.”
The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct has expressed its request for increased financial resources from state lawmakers to employ an additional investigator. While not explicitly mentioning the influence of media reporting or public exposure, it is believed to have played a significant role in motivating these changes. The commission’s response can be attributed to the growing demand from the public for action and accountability.
As part of her efforts to enhance judicial transparency and accountability, Rep. Ortiz has been actively advocating for an audit of the commission. She recently held a meeting with the commission’s executive director and a voting member to discuss potential measures. Ortiz noted that the commission seemed to recognize the importance of providing greater public access and outlined some preliminary actions it intends to undertake.
Recognizing the significant workload faced by the commission, which receives over 400 complaints annually, they have also requested additional funding in the upcoming budget to hire a new attorney dedicated to investigating complaints. Presently, the commission operates with only one investigator. Statistics provided by the commission indicate that the caseload in Arizona is higher compared to that of other states.
“I don’t know if this is the real solution we’re looking for. I think more accountability should happen. But greater transparency is always a good thing,” Ortiz stated.