Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery's second bid for Arizona's Supreme Court this year is moving ahead to the next stage of the process, despite recent backlash over his office's handling of an employee's sexual misconduct and demands for the top prosecutor's resignation.
On July 26, Montgomery and eight other applicants will be interviewed by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. After the interviews, the commission will recommend to Governor Doug Ducey at least three nominees for the seat that will be vacated by Chief Justice Scott Bales when he retires on July 31. Ducey will then choose one to appoint to the state Supreme Court.
Earlier this year, the commission questioned whether Montgomery could be an impartial judge, since the county attorney has openly expressed his opposition to sentencing reform and decriminalizing marijuana in the past. After making it to the interview stage, the commission rejected Montgomery's bid for John Pelander's seat in March, citing concerns over the pattern of misconduct at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office and a lack of relevant professional experience.
On Tuesday, the commission — composed of a few new members who appear more favorable to Montgomery — selected Montgomery and eight others to move ahead to the next stage of the process.
Only two of the 11 applicants for the vacancy were eliminated: Regina Nassen of the Pima County Attorney’s Office and Timothy Wright, a Gila County Superior Court judge.
After taking comments from the public, the commission approved nine applicants to move on to interviews:
- Sean Brearcliffe, an Arizona Court of Appeals judge – Division II
- Kent Cattani, an Arizona Court of Appeals judge – Division I
- Maria Elena Cruz, an Arizona Court of Appeals judge – Division I
- David Euchner of the Pima County Public Defender’s Office
- Richard Gordon, a Pima County Superior Court judge
- Randall Howe, an Arizona Court of Appeals judge – Division I
- Andrew Jacobs of Snell & Wilmer, LLP
- William Montgomery of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office
- Jennifer Perkins, an Arizona Court of Appeals judge – Division I
Four of those applicants — Cattani, Cruz, Gordon, and Jacobs — are already finalists for Pelander's seat.
Earlier this year, Ducey replaced some of the members who had rejected Montgomery's earlier Supreme Court bid and left the commission with new members who seemed more supportive of Montgomery. Some criticized Ducey for politicizing the commission: Despite the fact that Arizona law requires that no more than 60 percent of members may come from the same political party, none of the commissioners are Democrats.
One of the new commissioners, Matthew Contorelli, is an independent, though he has voted in Republican primaries in the past and has been a vocal supporter of Ducey. Another independent, Kathryn Townsend, appears to have contributed to Republican candidates in the past. Both approved a motion from Republican Jonathan Paton, seconded by independent Gerald Nabours, to add Montgomery to the list of applicants to be interviewed.
Two women spoke out against Montgomery at the meeting on Tuesday and urged the commission to vote against Montgomery.
Tabark Abdelhabib criticized Montgomery for his hiring former FBI agent John Guandolo to give "Muslim threat" training.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery paid out tens of thousands of dollars over last several years for John Guandolo's training of Arizona law enforcement officers. Below: Guandolo's tweet after mass murder in Pittsburgh synagogue. His Twitter account has been suspended. pic.twitter.com/8izI5e2apg— BrahmResnik (@brahmresnik) October 28, 2018
"Instead of shielding us from hate, Bill Montgomery in 2014 brought the hate to our homes," said Abdelhabib. "Inviting a fear-mongering individual who claims that only Christians should hold public office or that it does not violate the First Amendment to fire all Muslims working for government is a direct danger to our community and other protected religious groups."
Lenora Reyes-Petroff, a local criminal defense attorney, recounted how Montgomery refused to provide same-sex married couples with the same legal assistance he provided heterosexual couples. Lenora Reyes-Petroff married Leticia Reyes-Petroff in California in 2013. The following year, Leticia gave birth to their child. But since Arizona did not recognize same-sex marriages at the time, Lenora's name could not be placed on her son's birth certificate.
Lenora searched for a solution and set out to officially adopt her son to secure her parental rights, an expensive and time-consuming process. She found that Arizona law requires county attorneys to assist with uncontested adoptions for free.
So she contacted Montgomery's office, but an employee said Montgomery had directed them not to assist same-sex couples with adoptions.
After the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona sent a letter to Montgomery threatening to sue his office for discrimination, Montgomery decided to send all uncontested adoptions to private attorneys. The assistance the county attorney's office provided to adoptive parents was free, but under this new arrangement, the county actually paid private attorneys to do the work.
"Montgomery's personal bias clouded his judgment in this issue so badly that he illegally discriminated, ignored precedent and the letter of law, and even disregarded fiscal responsibility in order to avoid assisting a few same-sex couples," said Lenora Reyes-Petroff. "This is not the behavior of someone who is fit for the highest court in Arizona. Montgomery has never shown himself to be capable of being a fair and just jurist."
Montgomery was the only applicant whom people spoke against at the meeting. Two men did speak favorably of Montgomery, and throughout the meeting, several others urged the commission to approve other applicants.
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One man who spoke in favor of Montgomery, Frantz Beasley, said he served time in prison, connected with Montgomery through a re-entry program, and appreciates the assistance Montgomery has provided to his nonprofit. Another, Jeff Taylor, said he also spent time in prison and is now chairman of the board for the Salvation Army. He said he was initially disappointed when Montgomery was elected but found Montgomery to be "very teachable."
Since Montgomery's last attempt to win a seat on the state's highest court, several lawmakers and advocacy groups signed a letter demanding Montgomery resign for allowing the infamous homicide prosecutor Juan Martinez to engage in a years-long pattern of sexual misconduct with little to no repercussions.
Montgomery has also been criticized for his role in blocking criminal justice reform. In April, LUCHA, a grassroots organization, held a protest outside Montgomery's office denouncing the prosecutor for his refusal to support reforms that could reduce Arizona's prison population. Earlier this month, Montgomery and Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall sent Ducey a letter urging him to veto a sentencing reform bill, despite the fact that county attorneys had previously pledged to remain neutral on the bill.
It's unfortunate that the Prosecutors did not keep their word and stay neutral on this bill. After all, the changes we made were at their request. I suppose it's always true that no one likes to give up power. https://t.co/gwGVp9RMMF— Ben Toma (@RepBenToma) June 8, 2019