Gavel, scales of justice and law books

For shame! Glendale City Council eradicates the judicial selection advisory board.

On Tuesday, Sept. 22, in less than two minutes and without any questions or comments, the Glendale City Council amended long-standing ordinances that required the city council to receive recommendations on city and presiding city judge appointments from a judicial selection advisory board (JSAB). Most local municipalities, including Phoenix, Mesa and Surprise, have similar ordinances, where five to seven board members (usually one superior court judge, one appellate judge, one state bar nominee and at least two members residing in the community) recommend to the city council a list of candidates who should serve as city court judges. No ordinance states that the council must choose any of the recommended candidates, but they must at least allow the board to review the applicants, and to conduct interviews and background checks as needed, before making an appointment. 

About a month ago, on Aug. 12, through staff, the Glendale City Council contacted the members of the JSAB requesting a review of the application materials of their preferred candidate (a long-term city bureaucrat who provided other city bureaucrats as references) for presiding city judge. The email demanded a response within two business days (although the current presiding judge is not set to retire until March of 2021) as to whether that preferred candidate met the qualifications for presiding city judge. 

Having observed other JSABs in action, this process immediately felt wrong. Why was the council telling the board whom their preferred candidate was ahead of any application review? How many other applicants were there? Nineteen total—we were later informed. After requesting to see the other candidates’ submissions, 10 applications were eventually forwarded to the JSAB. At the board’s meeting on Sept. 2, board members raised ethical concerns about the council’s email, and the board voted unanimously, inter alia, to restart the tainted process anew—after both the council and board received training from the Arizona Supreme Court on how to conduct such appointments. After all, we had some time before the current presiding judge retired.

The Glendale City Council responded by refusing to adopt any of the recommendations made by the board to restart the process in a more principled manner. Instead, Human Resources and Risk Management Director Jim Brown informed the JSAB that the council would proceed as if all 19 applicants were found to be qualified. When confronted with the fact that city ordinances required recommendation of the JSAB before appointment, Mr. Brown and city attorney Michael Bailey met with the city council in a private executive session, where it was decided to amend city ordinances such that the JSAB was eliminated and the two statutes relating to the appointment of city judges no longer required JSAB recommendations. Only the vote was public.

In a time when our judicial system is constantly in the headlines, when there are bipartisan calls for criminal justice reform and where the public demands more transparency from our elected officials, Glendale’s elected leaders chose to shut out a board of vetted attorneys (including two well-respected members of the judiciary) from making recommendations.

The Glendale City Council has now made their judicial appointment process less transparent, just and dignified. Eliminating the JSAB reeks of cronyism, and the council, city attorney Michael Bailey, and Human Resources and Risk Management Director Jim Brown should be ashamed. 

Contact Ana Laura Botello at albotello@gmail.com.