The state’s highest-ranking justice on Wednesday appointed a retired Supreme Court justice to oversee the administration of cases among the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, the sheriff’s office, Board of Supervisors and Superior Court.
Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch wrote in her order that she had to assign the special master to ensure that the slew of lawsuits and investigations involving county leaders “do(es) not further affect the administration of justice in the Superior Court in Maricopa County or diminish public trust or confidence in the justice system.”
Jennifer Liewer, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Supreme Court, said: “It’s important the public knows our justice system is being protected.”
Ruth McGregor, who retired June 30 from the Arizona Supreme Court, will have the power to appoint judges to hear any future cases between the parties and do whatever is necessary “to ensure the swift, fair, and impartial administration of justice.”
The news of the appointment was welcome.
“We’re encouraged the Arizona Supreme Court has taken this step,” said Cari Gerchick, a spokeswoman for the legal office that represents the Board of Supervisors. “She is qualified to deal with the many complex and interrelated issues.”
No one with the Maricopa County Superior Court was available for comment.
Barnett Lotstein, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, said there will now be an impartial administration of justice.
“That’s what we desire and that’s what needs to be done,” Lotstein said.
The county attorney’s office in a racketeering lawsuit has accused four Maricopa County judges of conspiring with other county officials to block criminal investigations of Supervisor Don Stapley and a $340 million court tower.
County attorney Andrew Thomas has filed criminal charges against Judge Gary Donahoe and indicted Stapley and Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox in separate cases.
Those three criminal cases have been moved to Pima County Superior Court.
In addition, the sheriff’s office has taken control of a criminal justice computer used by the court, which has led to another lawsuit, and sheriff’s investigators have been grilling court employees at their homes and work.
Accusations of conflict of interest have flown from all sides. Now criminal defense attorneys in unrelated cases have filed motions to disqualify the county attorney from prosecuting their cases, saying the office has a conflict of interest after charging Donahoe and suing Superior Court in federal court.
Berch wrote that all of the allegations and investigations “have the potential to impair that court’s ability to carry out its responsibilities and threaten the perception of impartial justice.” The court presides over 28,000 felony cases a year.
“More significantly, if a true conflict is found to exist requiring the transfer of all criminal cases prosecuted by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to out-of-county judges, a public safety emergency would arise,” Berch wrote.