Maricopa County’s judge retention elections have typically been nothing more than a list of names on the ballot.
There have been no campaigns, sound bites, headlines or controversies because ethical canons prohibited judges from publicly taking a stand or speaking their minds on social and political issues.
That could change as political groups nationwide take advantage of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says ethical canons can’t muzzle judges.
The groups are now demanding answers to politically charged questions.
Maricopa County judges got a taste of it recently from the Center for Arizona Policy.
The conservative nonprofit group sent questionnaires to the 50 judges up for retention.
Their answers will be in the group’s election guide that will be mailed to 350,000 voters and posted on the Internet.
“Our questionnaire centers on judicial philosophy,” said Peter Gentala, the group’s general counsel.
Gentala said the judges’ responses to the five questions will be published verbatim, and the group won’t endorse anyone.
The information is simply meant to help the voter make a choice in an election where information is scarce, he said.
Retention elections happen every four years, allowing voters to decide whether the governor-appointed judges can keep their jobs.
Keith Stott, executive director of the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, said the nonprofit’s questionnaire is a milder version of others around the country that ask judges their opinions on issues such as abortion or the death penalty.
Stott said the commission likely will formally recommend that judges be cautious in answering the surveys because their statements could disqualify them from certain cases.
Judge Kenneth Mangum of Maricopa County Superior Court said he was hesitant to respond because he believed it was very partisan, but he answered three questions anyway because they were questions he would answer at a confirmation hearing or from someone on the street.
Judge Mark Aceto didn’t respond to the survey.
Judge Brian Ishikawa said he didn’t feel a need to answer the survey because he’s been a judge for almost 12 years.
“People know what kind of a judge I am,” Ishikawa said. “I’m a public official, I’m on public display.”