A revamped Commission on Appellate Court Appointments agreed last week to nominate Republican Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery for a soon-to-be-open seat on the Arizona Supreme Court.
The decision to include Montgomery among the seven nominees sent to Gov. Doug Ducey came five months after the commission passed him over for the last vacancy. At that time only five of the 12 commissioners present found he merited consideration.
Also nominated was state Appeals Court Judge Randall Howe, who is on the three-judge panel currently considering the appeal by Wilson Gee from a Superior Court order that he restore the Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course.
Ducey replaced several commissioners, including at least three who voted against Montgomery in his first outing.
Kathryn Townsend, one of the new commissioners, said she believed that a lot of people who oppose Montgomery “don’t like him because he’s a conservative, white, Christian, heterosexual male.’’
Ducey’s appointment of Townsend and others to the commission earlier this year was challenged by several Democrat senators who complained that the panel now lacks political, gender and ethnic diversity, something they said is required by the Arizona Constitution. Most notably, the commission has no Democrats.
One thing that helped Montgomery make the list is the fact that a majority of the commissioners decided to send seven names to the governor out of the nine applicants they interviewed, the maximum they could submit.
Ducey is required by law to choose from the list within 60 days to replace Democrat Scott Bales who is retiring.
Larry Suciu, one of the commissioners, urged his colleagues to pass over Montgomery as unqualified to sit on the state’s highest court.
“I think we need an applicant or a candidate who can hit the ground running and has the judicial experience to actually become an effective member of the court rather than somebody who’s going to be there and going to require a lot of training,’’ he said.
Montgomery, who has been county attorney for 8 1/2 years, has never been on the bench.
Even in that role, Suciu said, the evidence is that Montgomery has actually personally handled only one appellate level case.
Montgomery’s application, both this time and last, came under fire from groups who contend that he has ignored the law on issues with which he disagrees.
Some of that involves gay rights.
Khalil Rushdan, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, told the commission that Montgomery used his position to try to block implementation of the 2010 voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.
“This shows his inexperience and also his inability and unwillingness to separate his personal bias from facts,’’ Rushdan said.
He also accused Montgomery of going back on his word not to oppose legislation that would end the ability of prosecutors to “stack’’ charges against some criminal defendants to get an enhanced sentence.
The measure passed with a strong bipartisan majority.
Rushdan said that is why Montgomery is “seen as having no honor by many community members.’’
Montgomery, however, said he had been in opposition all along and made that no secret.
Jennah Scott told commissioners that the African American Christian Clergy Coalition also opposes Montgomery’s nomination. She said her group has had some “long conversations’’ with him about how he has run the county attorney’s office for the last nine years.
“We want Supreme Court justices to have experience where there is no significant controversy and where we can trust that decisions that are made, deliberations that are made, opinions that are offered have taken into consideration a balanced approach,’’ Scott said.
Steve Grams, director of Sage Counseling, praised Montgomery for various “diversion’’ programs, allowing people to escape criminal convictions for everything from low-level drug offenses to animal cruelty if they complete treatment and counseling.
Montgomery also got support from attorney Peter Gentala who is general counsel for Childhelp which works with abused, neglected and at-risk children.