By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Ramon Alvarez is Governor J. Fife Symington III's longtime friend. He is also the father of Symington's rumored love interest, Annette Alvarez. So it came as no surprise that Ramon Alvarez, a Douglas attorney, was the governor's recent choice for the Cochise County Superior Court bench.
The appointment has angered many in Cochise County legal circles and was even denounced by the county's largest newspaper, the Sierra Vista Herald, which opined that Alvarez's selection "insulted our legal community and should offend us all."
Alvarez was selected over nine other applicants, including a sitting judge pro tem who appears to have been perfectly suited for the appointment. Alvarez appears to have banked on the appointment. He began winding down his private law practice weeks before his selection was announced July 25.
In the wake of the appointment of Alvarez to the newly created Division IV of Cochise County Superior Court, spokesmen for Symington have asserted that Alvarez was selected because he was the best-qualified applicant.
However, a review of the written applications--which New Times obtained from Symington's office after making a public records request--indicates otherwise.
Based on the written applications (the governor did not interview the applicants or conduct any other apparent investigation into their backgrounds), Alvarez emerges as arguably the weakest of the ten applicants.
Alvarez's application pales in comparison with one candidate's in particular, John Conlogue. The new Division IV is a juvenile court post, and the county's sitting judge pro tem, Conlogue, 38, has extensive background in the labyrinthine arena of juvenile law.
Alvarez, 61, has almost none.
Ramon Alvarez, however, is the father of Annette Alvarez, the governor's former director of international affairs. Annette Alvarez resigned from the governor's staff in 1992 after bungling an opportunity to land a Japanese trade office for the state. Although she and the governor have denied they were romantically linked, she once wrote the governor a note professing her love for him and expressing concern over the "heightened intimacy" between them. Symington has stayed at the home of Ramon Alvarez when visiting Douglas.
The better-qualified Conlogue was appointed to the pro tem position in January after a committee of Cochise County citizens reviewed 13 applicants and unanimously recommended Conlogue for the post. Alvarez had not applied for the pro tem position, which was filled under selection guidelines established by the Arizona Supreme Court.
The appointment of a permanent judge, on the other hand, is at the discretion of the governor.
"I'm a little disappointed, but that's politics," says Judy Gignac, a former Cochise County supervisor who sat on the committee that recommended Conlogue. "There were some really good candidates."
Gignac, a Republican, adds, "There may or may not be a new judge come a year from November," when Alvarez faces reelection.
Symington's appointment of his old friend to the $92,000-a-year job has not been well-received in Cochise County. The normally staid Sierra Vista Herald excoriated Symington in an editorial, writing, "The lack of pretense to a careful sifting of the candidates was unseemly and tarnished the appointment.
" . . . The governor must have known he would be criticized if he elevated Alvarez to the bench. But he apparently didn't care. Nor, apparently, did he believe that he should carefully consider all the applicants and their credentials before filling this important judicial seat."
Conlogue, while presiding over juvenile cases as judge pro tem, won accolades from every quarter. Eugene Moore, Symington's director of the Arizona Department of Youth Treatment and Rehabilitation, urged Symington to appoint him to the bench. Moore wrote that Conlogue's judicial experience in juvenile matters "distinctly sets him apart." A panel of seven attorneys who reviewed Conlogue's performance as judge pro tem rated him as "excellent."
Karen Ferrara, the county's court administrator, lauded Conlogue for his efficient disposition of juvenile cases and for increasing orders of restitution to crime victims by 137 percent and collections of restitution by 337 percent.
Conlogue was strongly recommended by the three sitting Cochise County Superior Court judges, as well as the sheriff, county attorney, public defender, court clerk and numerous law enforcement officials, attorneys and citizens.
Conlogue's application was accompanied by 45 letters of recommendation, most of them written by Cochise County residents. Alvarez's application, however, contained only 12 letters of recommendation, and only two from Cochise County residents. Several writers urged Symington to appoint Alvarez because he is Hispanic.
Alvarez's cover letter--sent directly to Symington, instead of to the Cochise County court administrator--can only be described as bizarre, and serves to bolster claims that the appointment was a foregone conclusion.
Alvarez's cover letter raised eyebrows in Cochise County legal circles by alluding to "strong rumors" that one sitting judge is in ill health, "which of course would then leave another vacancy subject to your appointment." One courthouse wag described the reference as "beyond inappropriate."
Unlike other applicants (including Tom Collins, former Maricopa County attorney), Alvarez made no attempt to list his credentials, but wrote, "I am definitely interested in the position, and if you saw fit to appoint me, I would accept the appointment, and would seek reelection."
In an apparent attempt to quell fears about his lack of juvenile law experience, Alvarez suggested to the governor that he would not be handling juvenile cases after all. He wrote, "[Presiding Judge Matthew] Borowiec informed me that he had spoken with the Hon. Steve Desens, Division II, and that Judge Desens had indicated to him that in the event I were to receive an appointment to Division IV, Judge Desens would be willing to have Division II designated as the juvenile court, so that Division IV then would act in the capacity of a regular trial court."
Not true, Borowiec says.
"I never promised him any change," Borowiec says. "Nor did I talk to Judge Desens about moving over and doing juvenile work.
"Ramon knew that this was a juvenile job. He called me and I told him it was a juvenile job, and he told me that he'd better read up on juvenile law."
Alvarez declined to comment on his appointment or his apparent misrepresentation of the presiding judge's remarks.
Conlogue, who has returned to private practice in Bisbee, says he intends to run against Alvarez next November.
"I think the process speaks for itself," Conlogue tells New Times. "It was the governor's decision to make, and he made it.