Judging Stanley

Justice Stanley Feldman has ruled the Arizona legal scene for years. But now he's gone. And Governor Janet Napolitano has some important decisions to make.

There was not much diversity among the six attorneys who sat before the commission for interviews, unless you count the way the white, middle-aged men are addressing hair loss. That's not the commission's fault: They had a very white, male pool from which to draw. Ernest Calderon, a Hispanic attorney from Phoenix who is the current president of the Arizona State Bar, had originally applied, but pulled his name because, he says, he would be forced as a justice to give up most of his civic activities. Maurice Portley, who is African American and applied previously, says he plans instead to apply for an open slot on Arizona's Court of Appeals.

So that left the commission with geography and political affiliation as the significant differences among candidates. Many observers have said that Napolitano would be wise to name a Tucson attorney to the court. With Feldman and Zlaket gone, Pima County is no longer represented at all. And Napolitano owes Pima County a favor, after last fall's election.

But ultimately, of the four names sent by the commission to Napolitano, only one is from Tucson – and John Pelander, a conservative Republican who sits on the Court of Appeals, is her least likely choice. Scott Bales, a Democrat who served as solicitor general under Napolitano when she was attorney general, and David Cole, an Independent and Maricopa County Superior Court judge, are also on the list.

Bales and Napolitano are close; they also worked together when she was U.S. Attorney, and he is considered to be very capable.

But it is the final name on the list, Andrew Hurwitz, who everyone interviewed for this story thinks will get the job.

Hurwitz will be a controversial choice for Napolitano, in some ways. He is considered the most liberal of the candidates, even labeled by some as an ideologue. And he has long been a force in Democratic politics in Arizona, working for governors Babbitt and Mofford and most recently heading up Napolitano's transition team.

During his interview before the commission, one member asked Hurwitz if he felt he had been too involved in the other branches of government in the past to make a good Supreme Court justice.

Hurwitz pointed to Sandra Day O'Connor, who served in the Arizona Legislature before joining the bench. But perhaps an even better example is Ernest McFarland, who served as both Arizona's governor and U.S. senator before being named to the court.

Each interview lasted 45 minutes. Some dragged; Hurwitz's flew. It's easy to see why so many compare him to Feldman. He wears his passion for the law in the open, and eagerly engaged in debates with commission members about recent death penalty decisions and his past as a member of the Arizona Board of Regents.

ASU's Paul Bender says Hurwitz would be his choice, as much for his personality as his skill as a lawyer.

"He has a lot of Stanley's qualities of being able to work with and persuade other people," Bender says.

In the end, the commission almost didn't include Hurwitz's name on the list. He got just eight votes, barely a majority.

He got that majority, though, and if Hurwitz gets the seat, at 55 he'll have 15 years to prove himself.

Janet Napolitano will be watched closely, as she makes one of the most important decisions a governor can make.

And certainly, she'll be judged.

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