Siege Mentality

County Attorney Andrew Thomas is attempting to capitalize on a national trend by attacking local judges

"I tell people it's not the margaritas, it's the merit system," Dann says. "Arizona is considered a backwater state politically, but it's in the lead on so many of its court programs. I think it starts with merit selection. Merit selection does not necessarily produce a better judiciary, but it does produce a different kind of judge and bench.

"There are always some judges who can legitimately be criticized," Dann continues, "but even then, it's important that judges not have to pander to the public and to law firms and not have to raise large amounts of money to fund their campaigns."

Judicial candidates in other states often have to spend millions of dollars on campaigning (the Illinois Supreme Court race in 2004 cost more than 18 of the 34 U.S. Senate contests that year).

But while Andy Thomas might prefer to choose judges in ways other than merit selection, his political allies have flexed their muscles successfully within that system.

Last summer, several state legislators urged the county commission on Trial Court Appointments to kill the application for a judgeship of presiding Initial Appearance Court Commissioner Sheila Madden. Her sin: allegedly going out of her way to undermine implementation of Prop 100.

Among the legislators vigorously opposing her application was Russell Pearce, a former chief deputy under Joe Arpaio and one of Andrew Thomas' most vocal supporters. The powerful Representative Pearce and the other legislators, all Republicans, also questioned whether four of Madden's commissioner colleagues were fit to become judges.

None of the five made the cut.

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