Aside from relief that the bitter campaign for the Division 5 Superior Court judicial seat has ended, Cochise County would do well to learn from its experience.
Unlike Pima, Maricopa and in the near future Yuma counties, Cochise starts the election process for its Superior Court judges with a political primary. First candidates must declare their allegiance as a Republican, Democrat or an Independent. If they survive the primary then they run as “non-partisan” candidates in the following general election.
Instead, we propose a system similar to that of other Arizona counties which narrows the field of judge candidates by utilizing a nomination committee. Members of the committee are local attorneys who are undoubtedly more knowledgeable in considering the professional qualifications of potential judges than the average civic-minded citizen.
After the nominees have been selected, then voters choose their judge.
This process eliminates party politics from the election and ultimately offers the winning candidate more claim as a truly unbiased, non-partisan judge.
It may also improve the qualifications of the candidates seeking judicial seats.
In the most recent election, Cochise County voters were forced to separate the suitability of each candidate from their troubling histories. Questions about residency, judicial sanctions, smoking marijuana, petition challenges, job firings and other disturbing past behaviors made it difficult for voters to decide who would be the “best” Division 5 Superior Court Judge.
We expect the muck-raking campaigns affected the reputations of all three candidates in a profession that prides itself on integrity and the rule of law.
Cochise County voters should not be put in a position of choosing the “least bad” candidate when they elect a Superior Court judge. Rather than trying to filter which candidate has the fewest “skeletons-in-the-closet,” voters should be choosing based on the recommendations put forth by a nominating committee, distinguishing qualifications and character.
This process also eliminates the signature-gathering required of candidates seeking a spot on the ballot. While we agree with this function when it comes to electing a representative office — council member, mayor, state senator — we disagree that’s necessary for judicial candidates to hawk themselves for petition signatures.
We want our judges held in the highest esteem, renown for their integrity, impartiality, knowledge of the law and their sense of fairness.
Our current election process encourages a form of campaigning we have unfortunately become accustomed to, with negative ads, questionable allegations and very little discussion centered on issues and qualifications.
To restore our respect and the integrity of our Superior Court judges moving forward, it’s imperative that the Cochise County Board of Supervisors take action to change the current election process.
Doing so will serve the best interests of the court and county voters.