We wouldn't wish this job on our worst enemy.
Seeking to somehow manage the chaos that has engulfed the justice system in Maricopa County -- what with the county's presiding criminal court judge facing bizarre charges, a host of judges accused of being part of a "criminal enterprise," and lawsuits on top of lawsuits on top of lawsuits -- the chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, Rebecca Berch, announced today she was appointing a "special master."
The (really, really) unlucky appointee? Former Chief Justice Ruth V. McGregor.
According to a press release from the court, McGregor will be tasked with "administering" all matters arising from the controversy, including the motions filed by defense attorneys, asking that the county attorney be disqualified from prosecuting criminal cases.
Berch ordered that "the Special Master shall have the power to appoint judges to hear cases, motions, and preliminary matters, and to assign, reassign, expedite, or consolidate cases, or take such other actions as may be necessary or appropriate in these matters to ensure the swift, fair, and impartial administration of justice."
According to the order from Justice Berch, the appointment is a necessity:
These investigations, cases, motions, and allegations, particularly the allegations of conflicts of interest and a conspiracy among the members of the Board of Supervisors and certain judges, including the Presiding Judge, have the potential to impair that court's ability to carry out its responsibilities and threaten the perception of impartial justice. More significantly, if a true conflict is found to exist requiring the transfer of all criminal cases prosecuted by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office to out-of-county judges, a public safety emergency would arise.
Berch ordered "that the Special Master shall have access to all records and information necessary to carry out her duties and, if needed, may issue subpoenas and hold hearings."
McGregor, 66, served on the Arizona Supreme Court for nearly eleven years, including five years as chief justice. Before that, she was an appellate court judge, an attorney at Fennemore Craig, and -- even before that -- a school teacher.
She's known to be whipsmart (she graduated first in her class at ASU's law school). She is also a Democrat.
Now, most of the people in the midst of this fight happen to be Republicans. Four of the five members of the Board of Supervisors belong to the GOP, as do their arch nemeses, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas. But since Arpaio and Thomas have long tried to out-Republican any Republican, from Ronald Reagan on down, we can confidently predict that they'll be the ones to object to McGregor's selection.
We can also predict that some of the conservative blogs in town, particularly the immigration-obsessed Sonoran Alliance, will attempt to rehash the old controversy about how McGregor supposedly tried to tell judges not to allow the word "illegal" in their courtrooms. (Suffice to say, the smear is untrue; McGregor passed on a letter from the Hispanic Bar association, but never instructed anyone to do anything -- as no less than Rush Limbaugh himself was eventually forced to admit.)
A special master certainly seems like a good move. But like all good moves in this imbroglio, we can only expect all sorts of shouting, lawsuits, and perhaps even more charges of conspiracy as it all plays out.
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