Bill Montgomery is interviewed July 26 for a seat on the Arizona Supreme Court by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror
Gov. Doug Ducey has appointed Bill Montgomery, Maricopa County’s polarizing county attorney, to the Arizona Supreme Court.
“I was looking for a candidate who had an understanding of the law, a well-developed judicial philosophy, appreciation for the separation of powers and a dedication to public service,” Ducey tweeted on Wednesday.
“Bill Montgomery is that candidate. Bill has dedicated his life to serving our state and our nation,” Ducey tweeted. “More broadly, I was looking for an individual who wants to interpret the law – not someone who wants to write the law. That’s the job of the Legislature.”
Montgomery, who has served as Maricopa County attorney since 2010, is a controversial figure and unconventional pick for the Supreme Court, and has faced an unprecedented amount of opposition as Arizona awaited Ducey’s decision.
Ducey and Montgomery have long been political allies. The governor told Arizona Mirror that he would seek Montgomery’s approval for various criminal justice reform proposals that were being considered by the legislature. In June, he vetoed one such proposal after lobbying by Montgomery and another prosecutory.
But in February, Ducey surprised many political observers when he accused Montgomery of “whitewashing” police brutality by a Glendale officer who repeatedly used a stun gun on a handcuffed man, including applying electric shocks to his genitals, while his family watched.
Critics opposed Montgomery’s appointment to the Supreme Court for a variety of reasons. Some, including a member of the nominating commission that vets judicial candidates, questioned his lack of judicial experience, noting that he has never served as a judge and has almost no experience arguing cases at the appellate level.
Others questioned his politics and policies as in his nine years as Maricopa County’s top prosecutor. He invited a prominent anti-Muslim figure to conduct training for the county attorney’s office. He refused to provide legal assistance to a same-sex couple seeking to adopt a child, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage across the country, then asked the legislature to repeal the law requiring his office to provide such legal aid. And criminal justice reform advocates take issue with his tough-on-crime approach and opposition to legislative reforms.
Montgomery also had no shortage of high-profile supporters. Former U.S.Sen. Jon Kyl, Attorney General Mark Brnovich, GOP power broker Steve Twist and state Rep. Anthony Kern, among others, have publicly backed Montgomery’s appointment to the court.
On Tuesday, the day before Ducey made his appointment, a defense attorney for convicted murderer Jodi Arias filed an ethics complaint against Montgomery with the State Bar of Arizona, accusing him of ignoring misconduct by Juan Martinez, the star prosecutor in the blockbuster murder trial.
Montgomery criticized the Bar complaint in a press statement Tuesday evening.
“Political agendas and special interests should not be allowed to have a place when it comes to the ethical responsibilities of a prosecutor. I await a full and timely review of these inaccurate claims that have been previously reviewed and found to be without merit,” he said.
Kyl also came to Montgomery’s defense, questioning the timing of the Bar complaint, which came just days after Ducey completed his interviews for the Supreme Court vacancy.
“Some say the timing of this complaint is suspicious, given that Bill is a candidate for the Arizona Supreme Court. I’ve been a supporter of his for that position, and still am. He would make an excellent addition to the Court,” Kyl said in a statement provided to reporters.
Montgomery applied for another Supreme Court appointment earlier this year following the retirement of Justice John Pelander. But the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments didn’t select his as a finalist for the position in March. Subsequently, Ducey replaced several commission members who had voted against Montgomery’s candidacy. The commission voted in July to include Montgomery on the list of seven candidates – an unusually large list of finalists – it sent to Ducey.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will appoint Montgomery’s replacement as county attorney.
Montgomery is Ducey’s fifth appointment to the Arizona Supreme Court, a record aided by the expansion of the high court from five members to seven in 2016. Only two members of the court, Chief Justice Robert Brutinel and Justice Ann Timmer, predate Ducey’s tenure as governor.
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