In 1988, seeing court caseloads burgeoning with the population, Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Gordon decided that a coordinated, long-range plan was needed to carry Arizona’s judicial system into the new millennium. He appointed the Commission on the Courts, a 34-member “blue-ribbon” group from across the state to develop that plan, and to make specific recommendations for the judiciary to handle the growth and technological change coming at it, while constantly improving quality. Eddie Basha served as Chair; Charles Ares (U of A College of Law) and the late Jack Whiteman (CEO of Empire Southwest) were Vice Chairs.
Four task forces were established, involving an additional 141 people: Court Organization & Administration, Dispute Resolution, Children & Families in the Courts, and Court Productivity.
I was honored to serve as a public member of the Commission, and Vice Chair of the Task Force on Court Productivity. Everyone worked hard for ten months and something wonderful happened... A large number of our recommendations were enacted!
The Task Force on Organization recommended establishment of the Arizona Judicial Council to advise the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice. As one of the nine public members for ten years, I was constantly impressed by the quality of our judiciary and the staff. They genuinely wanted our input.
Merit Selection & Retention of judges had been adopted in 1974, but there was no accompanying mechanism for lay voters to vote knowledgeably. So our Task Force recommended creation of the Arizona Commission on Judicial Performance Review, adopted in 1992. I now serve as one of the 18 non-attorney members of the 30-member non-partisan commission. We research and review the performance of the judges up for retention and report our findings in the Voter Information pamphlet and on our website: www.azjudges.info . This is no mean task, because this year we reviewed about 90 judges. Just analyzing the survey results took me at least 24 hours, and that isn’t counting the numerous day-long meetings we had to come to our conclusions. I’m lucky I don’t have to drive to Phoenix from Kingman or Hereford for each meeting, as two of our public members do.
On the JPR website, you can find a brief video we volunteers have created. It explains how our judges are selected and evaluated. Also, it explains the quality-improvement system for our judges – a successful program with over 150 volunteers. This information can help you finish your ballot and vote more knowledgeably on Proposition 115.
WE give countless hours to help YOU make your decisions as a voter. Please take seven minutes of your time, go to www.azjudges.info and watch the video on the front page. (Use the “Forward” button on the lower left side to advance the slides.) Then tell your friends to do it, too. You’ll be doing yourself – and our state – a great service.
Phoenix resident Susan E. Edwards is a long-time community volunteer and retired certified financial planner who served as a member of a JPR Quality-Improvement Conference Team.