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College of Law to host judicial merit selection panel

September 30, 2008

The process by which judges are chosen in Arizona is the topic of a panel to be held on Tuesday, Nov. 4, at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at ASU.

"Becoming a Judge: The Ins and Outs of Judicial Merit Selection in Arizona" also will include information on the requirements and procedures for students who might be interested in future careers on the bench. The event will begin with a noon lunch in the College's Rotunda, followed by the program from 1-3 p.m. in the Great Hall in Armstrong Hall.

Panelists include Arizona Supreme Court justices Andrew Hurwitz and Michael Ryan, Judge Pat Orozco of the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, Maricopa County Superior Court judges Sally Duncan and Lisa Daniel Flores, John Leavitt, a public member of the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, and Mike Leal, a lawyer member of the Maricopa County Commission on Trial Court Appointments.

The program is being sponsored by the Arizona Supreme Court Subcommittee on Recruitment of the Commissions on Appellate and Trial Court Appointments. The subcommittee was established by the Arizona Supreme Court to "examine issues and pursue activities relevant to the recruitment of a diverse applicant pool reflective of the gender, ethnic, racial, geographic and political diversity of Arizona," said member Helene Fenlon, a Phoenix attorney.

The group has considerable work to do, given that only 9 percent of judges appointed during fiscal year 2007-2008 in Arizona's appellate and trial courts that use the merit selection system are minorities, according to the Judicial Nominating Commission. And, in Maricopa County, male judges appointed to the bench that same fiscal year outweighed females by nearly 3-to-1. Part of the problem, Fenlon said, is that the pool of minority and women applicants is too small.

"It's so important that Arizona's bench reflects the gender, ethnic, geographic and political diversity of this state because, otherwise, citizens don't have confidence in the system," she said. "The bench is strongest when it is able to draw upon the diverse life experiences of its members. So, we want to reach out to well-qualified people who might not otherwise apply, and that includes students.

"But a lot of students don't think about being a judge when they're in law school. Consequently, they may not know what the requirements are to become a judge, and they may not realize that what they did in law school, their grades, the experience they got, being involved in the community, how they interacted with their peers, are part of those qualifications."

The panelists will talk about the concept of merit selection, in which nonpartisan commissions comprising attorneys and members of the public investigate and evaluate applicants and make recommendations to the governor for appointments.

The event also will give students a chance to mingle with judges, attorneys and their future peers in the Bar, Fenlon said.

The free networking lunch, sponsored by Lewis and Roca, is open to the first 100 law students and members of the State Bar of Arizona who register by e-mailing Registering for the program also is suggested.

Janie Magruder,
(480) 727-9052
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law