Within the hour, Howard Hantman, 50, had been sworn in as a Pima County Superior Court judge. Now the lightly bearded Hantman, looking more like a dashing figure from a woodcut illustrating a 19th-century novel than a lawyer, was encircled by friends and colleagues.

More than 100 of them had come to his reception at the Arizona Inn. Some had been fraternity brothers at the University of Arizona. Others had worked alongside Hantman either when he was a Pima County prosecutor or a public defender. Several judges who grew to know him during his five years as a pro tem judge were also on hand.

Hantman was appointed to the bench recently by Governor J. Fife Symington III in a move surprising to insiders of both the Democratic and Republican parties in this state. Hantman, you see, had absolutely no political backing from either party. Simply put, he is a judge, not a political partisan.

When it came down to it, Governor Symington picked Hantman over candidates backed by both parties solely because of Hantman's knowledge of the law.

For Hantman, it was a high point in a serendipitous journey. Who would ever expect a graduate of Woody Allen's old Brooklyn high school to end up in Tucson as a Superior Court judge? And how many old Brooklyn boys are honored at receptions at the elegant Arizona Inn?

It is a place that reeks of the genteel Old West. Guests speak in hushed tones in the thickly carpeted hallways and in the cavernous, vaulted-ceiling dining room. In the afternoons, tea is served in the book-lined library.

A 15 percent gratuity is added discreetly to all bills. This way, nothing so crass as cash need ever change hands between the staff and guests. In many cases, this prevents the staff from learning about the penurious nature of some of the Inn's most well-heeled guests.

The Arizona Inn's gardens and lawns are meticulously maintained. In winter, which is high season, the water in the Inn's ancient swimming pool is maintained at an almost-simmering 88 degrees.

Here, the blue blazer from Brooks Brothers, not Georgio Armani or Ralph Lauren, is the de rigueur garment for men during the cocktail hour. At the Inn, Gentlemen's Quarterly is a magazine yet to be admitted to the racks in the tiny gift shop.

Hantman applied for the bench a total of four times. This was the second time he had been a finalist. His background was excellent. But he did not, to his credit, seek the job as unrelentingly as did many others.

He had been a prosecuting attorney three years and a public defender for another 15, in addition to the years he had already served on the bench.

But the chances of anyone becoming a judge without backing from a big law firm or one of the political parties are minuscule.

So it was considered astonishing that the embattled Symington, who needs every bit of help from party regulars that he can find, would pick someone whose chief qualification was that he was the most deserving candidate.

But that's what happened.
"I have nothing but good things to say about the governor," Hantman said. "Obviously, it would have been easier for him to pick any of the other candidates. No one would ever have been the wiser.

"There are a lot of other people in the legal community in Tucson to thank, too," he said. "A lot of them are Republicans, and they went to bat for me."
Hantman's decision to come to Arizona stemmed from a suggestion from his late father, who, as a naval officer in 1943, had slept in the old Bear gymnasium on the UofA campus on his way to serve in the South Pacific.

"When it came time to pick colleges, I visited Denver and Tucson," Hantman recalls. "On the day I arrived in Denver, it was near zero and snowing. Then I flew to Tucson. When I checked into the old Westerner hotel, it was 70 degrees and sunny. My mind about where I was going to college was made up."
A stranger asked Hantman how long he intended to remain on the bench. No one who has known him over the years would have deemed such a question necessary.

"I love what I do," he said. It was almost like making a lifelong commitment. "I couldn't be happier."
There was a single cloud on Judge Hantman's horizon. He had taken Gus, his somewhat overweight golden retriever, to the groomer the day before being sworn in.

"Somehow, they lost Gus' nametags," Hantman said. "We've got to take care of that right away."
In my haste to be an expert in all things, I have always maintained that Governor Symington has never done a single thing right since becoming governor. Obviously, I must now amend that rather rash and somewhat intemperate statement.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Fitzpatrick