Groups seek to oust high court judge
PHOENIX -- A loosely organized effort to oust a state Supreme Court justice is forcing him to consider an unprecedented campaign to keep his post.
Justice John Pelander said he is upset by “hit pieces” being put out by groups urging that he not be retained on the bench this year. Pelander, is worried, though, about the problems of mounting an active campaign, a first for a Supreme Court justice since direct elections were scrapped in 1974. Rules for judges on political activity would constrain what he can say and Pelander is precluded from soliciting the funds himself.
But attorney Paul Eckstein said he may run a campaign, independent of Pelander, to combat the efforts to oust the judge. And Eckstein, a Democrat, said he is doing that even if Pelander is a Republican.
Campaign materials being put out by groups as diverse as the Williams Tea Party and Legislative District 18 Republican Committee are urging a “no” on the ballot question about retaining Pelander. The anger is focused on Pelander because the Supreme Court earlier this year ruled that Proposition 121 can be on the ballot. That measure, if approved, would amend the state Constitution to create an open primary system where all candidates run against each other regardless of party affiliation, with the top two advancing.
It's not just that these groups oppose an open primary. They point to testimony that some petition signatures were forged. But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Rea limited testimony to just two hours for each side, leaving anti-121 attorney Mike Liburdi without time to introduce all his evidence.
Three justices of the Supreme Court, including Pelander, refused to overturn that decision. Virtually identical statements on mailers and various political pieces said Pelander should be removed from the bench for agreeing with the ruling “in the face of overwhelming evidence of fraudulent signatures.”