Commentary

Bill Montgomery shouldn’t be on the Supreme Court

February 5, 2019 10:31 am

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery speaking at a 2015 talk hosted by the Center for Political Thought & Leadership at Arizona State University titled “Is the American Great Crime Decline Sustainable?” in Tempe. Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

The Arizona Supreme Court recently announced a forthcoming vacancy. In all, 13 candidates applied, including Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. But Montgomery’s background shows that he lacks traits necessary to serve in this capacity: He can’t fairly consider misconduct allegations, is driven by ideology and lacks appellate experience crucial to the highest court in our state. Let me explain.

First, Montgomery’s record as Maricopa County Attorney shows he doesn’t care about prosecutorial misconduct. By the time Montgomery took office in 2010, county prosecutor Juan Martinez was already well-known for his questionable tactics. Despite Montgomery’s pledge to implement measures to prevent misconduct, Martinez’s penchant for misconduct continued. In 2015, our Supreme Court found Martinez repeatedly committed misconduct in a death penalty case. That scene repeated itself last year, when the Supreme Court again found Martinez repeatedly committed misconduct in another death penalty case.

Martinez isn’t a standalone. Another death penalty prosecutor under Montgomery’s supervision earned national attention for misconduct in 2016, and the Supreme Court found a third repeatedly skirted the line of misconduct last year. Contrary to his prior assurances, Montgomery didn’t create an environment that would stamp out misconduct; he created an environment that celebrates misconduct.

Our Supreme Court is responsible for addressing misconduct in two ways. Like the cases above, our Supreme Court considers misconduct in the cases before them. Beyond this, the Supreme Court establishes the Rules of Professional Conduct and oversees attorney discipline in its administrative function. Mr. Montgomery’s history shows he’s incapable of properly reviewing misconduct in either capacity.

Second, the Arizona Supreme Court is responsible for upholding the law, regardless of personal beliefs. While prosecutors are also supposed to uphold the law, Montgomery has used his position to obstruct laws he didn’t agree with.

Consider his response to the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. When Arizona passed AMMA, the voters made clear that people should be allowed to use marijuana products medicinally. Montgomery, however, led the attempts to render AMMA ineffective, arguing that Maricopa County could refuse to issue zoning documents. And when other prosecutors invented new strategies to meddle with the will of the voters, Montgomery added his voice in support.

Our Justices strive to make decisions that are motivated by principles of legal interpretation, not personal opinion. When placed in a similar situation, Montgomery followed his personal ideology, not the law.

Third, Montgomery’s background doesn’t indicate an interest in the Supreme Court. Arizona has a merit selection process that is designed to forward only the most qualified people to the governor for appointment. Flip through the applications and you’ll see something: Nearly every other candidate has a solid foundation of appellate experience, whether serving as a judge on one of Arizona’s lower courts or as a practicing attorney. While the extent of the appellate experience varies among candidates, that interest is evident.

Montgomery’s experience stands in stark contrast. He only lays claim to 15 appellate cases on which he was counsel of record, and he’s only argued one. Montgomery is a politician first and foremost. But when his attempts to get appointed to the United States Senate fell through, Montgomery apparently shifted his focus to our Supreme Court. Nothing in his application suggests he ever held an interest in the judiciary before Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Martha McSally to the U.S. Senate.  

Arizona’s Supreme Court serves an important function for justice and should not be a consolation prize for a politician who failed to ascend to the political peak to which he aspired. An appointment to our Supreme Court should be reserved for lawyers and judges who are experienced, have a genuine interest in the Supreme Court and its many functions, and can exercise their discretion with fairness and an open mind. Bill Montgomery isn’t that person.

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Mikel Steinfeld

Mikel Steinfeld is President of Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice and lives in Maricopa County.

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