Only voters can put bad judges out to pasture
By Linda Bentley | October 3, 2008
It’s also an opportunity to vote to retain good judges
MARICOPA COUNTY – The Commission on Judicial Performance Review exists “to provide meaningful and accurate information to the public for its use in voting on the retention of judges and justices appointed to the bench …”
Performance reviews are based on judges’ ability to:
• administer justice fairly, ethically, uniformly, promptly and efficiently;
• be free from personal bias when making decisions and decide cases based on the proper application of law;
• issue prompt rulings that can be understood and make decisions that demonstrate competent legal analysis;
• act with dignity, courtesy and patience; and
• effectively manage their courtrooms and the administrative responsibilities of their office.
The commission’s website states, “To ensure the confidentiality and integrity of the JPR process, all survey data and public comments are encoded with a judge number assigned by the data center prior to being given to the commission members. Commission members never know the identity of a judge or justice until after the public vote on whether a judge or justice ‘Meets’ or ‘Does Not Meet’ judicial performance standards unless a judge appears in person to address the commission.”
The commission’s vote on the Maricopa County Superior Court judges resulted in a determination Judge Crane McClennen does not meeting judicial performance standards.
With two not voting, out of 29 commissioners, 17 voted McClennen did not meet standards.
However, only voters have the ability to put him out to pasture in November.
McClennen, who is a criminal law specialist, went to work for the law firm Snell & Wilmer after graduating from law school in 1972.
He worked at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office as assistant attorney general in the criminal appeals section from 1975 through 1997, which was when he was appointed a Maricopa County Superior Court judge.
McClennen spent his first year presiding over civil cases, two years in family court, six years in criminal court and two years in juvenile court at the Durango facility, where he currently presides.
Of the 44 surveys returned by attorneys, 40 percent found McClennen’s judicial temperament either unsatisfactory or poor, while 17 percent found his temperament satisfactory, 23 percent said it was very good and 20 percent responded it was superior.
Although McClennen is the only judge the commission found to not meet standards, there are others who the commission may not have heard about yet.
There’s Judge Anna Baca, who recently overstepped her bounds by dismissing a grand juror without the authority to do so.
Baca graduated law school in 1980 and worked as a private practice civil litigation attorney for three years.
She then worked alternately as an administrative law judge and enforcement manager for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, known lately as the U.S. government agency that spends its time and taxpayers resources to sue nonprofit organizations such as the Salvation Army for violating employees’ rights by requiring them to speak English.
Baca’s been a Maricopa County Superior Court judge since 1994.
Locally, she is known for her decision in the Michael Peloquin case against the town of Carefree.
Peloquin sued the town after the Carefree Planning and Zoning Commission recommended his application for a special use permit (SUP) to build a 156-room resort on 12 acres of residentially zoned land be denied.
The issue at hand was whether granting a SUP was a legislative act, requiring council approval or an administrative process, as Peloquin contended.
Baca ruled in Peloquin’s favor, prompting Carefree to appeal, which resulted in a non-decision by the court of appeals, further confusing the issue.
Meanwhile, the development community was paying close attention, since Baca’s ruling meant SUPs could be granted, by right, without public opinion, P&Z review or council action.
Although it took several years and a pile of taxpayers’ money, Baca’s ruling was eventually overturned.
When Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was sued for shortening visitation hours in his jails to 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Baca ordered Arpaio to extend the hours of privileged visitations at all five jail locations to at least 9 p.m. in addition to other orders.
However, Baca’s decision was overturned by the court of appeals, citing the courts do not have jurisdiction over the visiting hours of the county’s jails.
So, citizens may want to consider voting Baca out to pasture along with McClennen.
Visit the Arizona Commission on Judicial Performance Review’s website (www.azjudges.info/home/index.cfm) to review the detailed survey responses for each of the judges that will be on the November ballot.
Even though, as a body, the commission found all of the other judges met judicial performance standards, that didn’t mean all the commissioners felt that way. The following number of commissioners voted these judges unfit:
Linda Akers – 3
Louis Araneta – 1
Connie Contes – 1
Jo Lynn Gentry-Lewis – 6
John Hannah, Jr. – 1
Robert Oberbillig – 4
Jose Padilla – 3
Roland Steinle, III – 4
There were also a few judges worth noting for receiving stellar reviews across the board through surveys returned by presiding judges, attorneys, litigants, witnesses and pro per respondents, and jurors, although not all received responses by presiding judges.
There were only an elite few, John Buttrick, Bruce Cohen, Andrew Klein and Colleen McNally, who were ranked superior by over 70 percent of the survey respondents.
Taking into consideration the respondents included pro per defendants, after sitting in on a few criminal cases in Klein’s court, his ranking comes as no surprise.