WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama nominated Tucson attorney Rosemary Marquez to a judgeship on the U.S. District Court for Arizona on June 23, 2011.
One year later, the nomination has not moved an inch.
Despite a “dire” need for judges on the overworked district court, Marquez has yet to have a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled, even as others nominated with her, and since, have moved all the way through the process to Senate approval.
And Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who some have blamed for the delay, said recently that “nothing’s happening” with the Marquez appointment.
“The southern division (of the federal court) is incredibly overloaded,” said Walter Nash, an Arizona defense attorney who deals with federal court cases.
“There’s a definite need for more judges. We’re jammed solid with immigration and drug cases,” Nash said.
And court officials expect it will get worse before it gets better.
“Because we expect some judges to take senior status (retire) next year, that would leave us in even dire circumstances,” said Brian Karth, the clerk for the court.
For much of the past year, the district was under a judicial emergency, declared in January 2011 after then-Chief Judge John Roll was killed in a Tucson shooting spree that killed five others and wounded 13, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
There were already two vacant judgeships on the court before Roll’s death.
Last June, Obama nominated Marquez and Jennifer Guerin Zipps to fill two of those vacancies. Zipps had a nomination hearing last July and was approved by the full Senate in October, but Marquez’s nomination has not moved.
Before a hearing can be scheduled, home-state senators must submit “blue slips” to the Senate Judiciary Committee allowing the nominee to go forward. But neither Kyl nor Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has submitted the paperwork.
Neither Kyl nor McCain responded to requests for comment on the Marquez nomination. But McCain said in March that the senators “do not feel at this time that she’s qualified.”
The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which reviews federal judicial nominees, gave Marquez a unanimous rating of “qualified,” its middle ranking between well-qualified and not qualified.
Marquez has also won the backing of the Hispanic National Bar Association, as well as other southern Arizona lawyers, judges and lawmakers.
“If he (Kyl) has a compelling reason why he doesn’t want to move her, he should be honest with her and with the public,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, a Marquez supporter.
Marquez could not be contacted for comment.
She was admitted to the bar in 1993 and is in private practice in Tucson, according to nominating materials she submitted to the committee. Her resume includes time working in the Pima County Attorney’s Office and as a public defender.
Despite the delay, members of the legal community said the court has managed to keep up with the caseload. But just barely.
Karth said the court has rotated “nearly 60″ visiting judges through the district court in the last year to help with the workload.
“Without their help, we would not have been able to keep up with the caseload,” he said.
Larry Hammond, a defense attorney who handles cases in the district, said it has been “a pretty unsatisfying time period” for judges on the court.
“This is … almost a year-and-a-half that we’ve been dealing with it,” Hammond said.
“The sense I get is that the judges really feel like they can’t do what they ought to do,” he said. “That is, they don’t have the feeling that if you preside over a trial you can take the time to do a trial correctly.”
Despite that, Hammond said he thinks the judges have “still been able to do their job.”
But Karth said more help is still needed.
Even if the two vacancies were filled tomorrow – Marquez was nominated to replace Judge Frank Zapata and a replacement for Judge Mary Murguia has not been named – the district would still need more judges, he said.
“We’re still anxious for our vacancies to be filled,” Karth said.