Nov 15, 2022 - Politics

Voters rejecting three Maricopa County judges

Illustration of a voting booth with a curtain shaped like a judge's robes

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Arizona may be on the verge of booting three sitting judges from office in one election. Only three judges have been rejected in the nearly 50 years since Arizona adopted its judicial retention election system.

State of play: Maricopa County Superior Court judges Rusty Crandell, Stephen Hopkins and Howard Sukenic are losing their retention elections, and are down by more votes than are left to count.

Context: Under the system adopted by voters in 1974, Superior Court judges in Arizona's most populous counties, along with those from the Court of Appeals and Arizona Supreme Court justices, are picked through merit selection. That's a system where governors appoint people from lists of candidates selected by independent commissioners.

  • Those judges must stand in retention elections every four years in which voters decide whether to keep them on the bench.
  • Superior court judges in smaller counties are still chosen by voters in direct elections.

Between the lines: All three judges got relatively poor reviews from the Arizona Commission on Judicial Performance Review, which was established in 1992 to set performance standards.

  • Hopkins was the only Maricopa County judge who didn't meet the commission's standards.
  • Crandell and Sukenic met the standards, but by relatively low votes.

Yes, but: Other judges who have received low or even failing grades from the commission have managed to keep their seats in previous elections.

Flashback: Voters had only rejected judges three times prior to this year's election.

Of note: Crandell is one of 15 finalists for three positions on the Court of Appeals Division I — which will be selected by Gov. Doug Ducey — so he could theoretically get a new job on the bench if he loses his retention election.


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