Spiked

The legal community is abuzz about who will be Arizona's next Supreme Court justice.

Here Comes the Justice

The Spike has become a big fan of the Arizona Supreme Court in recent months. The court, steered by a couple of sharp thinkers -- Stanley Feldmanand Thomas Zlaket -- has been a reasonable and progressive balance to the often dumb (and sometimes blatantly unconstitutional) lawmaking practiced by the Arizona Legislature. The recent decision, authored by Feldman, that awards grazing rights to the highest bidder, not just ranchers, stands out as an example of a court going down a thoughtful public-policytrack.

The Spike isn't the only interested spectator these days. The legal community is abuzz about who will get the seat being vacated by Justice Fred Martone, a super-conservative who is moving on to the federal court bench. That leaves Feldman and Zlaket with Chief Justice C.E. "Bud" Jones, and Ruth McGregor, a conservative, pro-business voice.

This cartoon of Balbir Singh Sodhi, the Mesa Sikh killed a few days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, is part of a two-volume collection of tributes to the tragedy published last week by Scottsdale's Chaos comics. The local publisher came up with the idea for the tribute and collected material from all over the world.
This cartoon of Balbir Singh Sodhi, the Mesa Sikh killed a few days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, is part of a two-volume collection of tributes to the tragedy published last week by Scottsdale's Chaos comics. The local publisher came up with the idea for the tribute and collected material from all over the world.

Governor Jane Hull is poised to pick a new justice. And the line is already forming.

The Spike hears Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Michael Ryan -- conservative, smart and wheelchair-bound -- is a top contender. Two other appellate judges -- Rebecca White Berch and Cecil B. Patterson Jr. -- are also being talked about. Berch is widely considered to be a good judge, but mention her name and legal types immediately bring up her husband, Michael, who was forced a few years back to take some time off from his gig as a law professor at Arizona State University after an infamous, inebriated trolley ride with some coeds.

Patterson has an advantage, frankly, because he's African-American. Another African-American mentioned is Maricopa Superior Court Judge Mo Portley. Portley's a rarity: a fine judge with a big heart. And a sense of humor.

Another possibility -- this time from the private sector -- is José Cárdenas, managing partner at the local law firm Lewis and Roca. Cárdenas is a shaker in Hispanic and business circles. His big champion, the Spike hears, is the venerable John Frank (hey, the guy is the venerable definition of venerable), a longtime Lewis and Roca partner and micromanagerof Arizona politics -- and no stranger to high-court shenanigans. (Frank and gube hopeful AG Janet Napolitano represented Anita Hill in the Clarence Thomas hearings.) Insiders giggled, watching Frank fight for Martone's confirmation to the federal bench. Frank can't stand Martone, but he wanted him off the Arizona Supreme Court to make way for, say, Cárdenas.

Deadline for applications is February 7. Then the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments gets 60 days to send a short list to The Gov, who is expected to pick a winner by early summer.

The stakes are important. Feldman could be leaving the bench next year, forced out when he reaches age 70, the mandatory retirement age under state law. Jones is 67.

Still, the Spike's sources say legislation is in the works to put a measure on the ballot that would extend or abolish the mandatory retirement age.

Perennial Pols

Speaking of John Frank, he must be control-freaking out at the news that former Arizona Democratic Party chairman Mark Fleisher is running for the new 7th District congressional seat in Tucson. It took Frank and Co. years to put a stake in Fleisher's heart and run him out of party HQ. Don't count on Fleisher making it far in his bid. Reports out of Tucson are that he hasn't even moved to his new district yet -- and The Spike wouldn't put it past Fleisher's enemies (including Janet Napolitano) to squash him for sport.

But there is good news for political watchers sick of the perennial candidates: Looks like Arizona's finally rid of Bert Tollefson, that barely there GOPer whose hobby in recent years has been launching goofy challenges to the likes of U.S. Senator John McCain. Last year, he continually interrupted any chance of meaningful debate during the race for Congress in the East Valley.

Tollefson must have finally realized he'd overstayed his welcome here in Arizona. He recently announced he's running for Congress in South Dakota.

Everybody Must Get Stoned

Perhaps the Phoenix Zoo is feeling a bit guilty. Or maybe this is just another way to get rid of those cute little rabbits and squirrels and mice that roam zoo grounds.

But, not eight months after sponsoring a contest that encouraged employees to kill hundreds of the critters, the zoo is taking part in the Arizona Science Center's annual Rodent Festival on February 2.

The event is described as a chance for people to "learn about our underappreciated rodent friends," while doing hands-on activities with rodents provided by the zoo.

The Spike wasn't told exactly what those activities are. Hopefully, bashing their little heads with rocks won't be something the kiddies will be encouraged to do.

But let's not forget, it was zoo officials who in July came up with the Rodent/Rabbit Games as a way to make sure the rodent population running rampant on zoo grounds wasn't exposing the populace to tularemia, a bacterial infection contagious to both animals and humans. Prizes were offered to employees who nabbed the most critters. According to the zoo, more than 950 rodents were killed without a single one testing positive for the infection.

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