Gov. Ducey appoints Bill Montgomery to Arizona Supreme Court

Sep 4, 2019, 2:16 PM | Updated: 4:55 pm
(AP File Photo)...
(AP File Photo)
(AP File Photo)

PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced Wednesday that he has appointed Republican Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to the state’s Supreme Court.

Montgomery will replace Chief Justice Scott Bales, who announced in March he was stepping down to lead the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver.

“I was looking for a candidate who had an understanding of the law, a well-developed judicial philosophy, appreciation for the separation of powers and a dedication to public service,” Ducey said in a tweet.

“More broadly, I was looking for an individual who wants to interpret the law – not someone who wants to write the law. That’s the job of the Legislature.”

Montgomery was one of seven finalists for the opening. He is Ducey’s fifth appointment to the seven-justice court, which now consists only of Republicans.

The other finalists were appellate judges Sean Brearcliffe, Kent Cattani, Maria Elena Cruz and Randall Howe; Snell & Wilmer attorney Andrew Jacobs and David Euchner, a public defender in Pima County.

Montgomery, who graduated from West Point and received his law degree from Arizona State University, will submit his resignation as county attorney soon, according to a Maricopa County Attorney’s Office press release.

Chief Deputy Rachel Mitchell will lead the department until the Board of Supervisors chooses an interim county attorney, the release said. That appointee will serve out Montgomery’s term, which ends in January 2021.

Mitchell’s name may be familiar from her role in the high-profile U.S. Senate hearing before Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation last year.

The Board of Supervisors said it will provide details about the process to replace Montgomery “in the near future.”

“As the newest justice on the Supreme Court, I am keenly aware of the need to maintain the court’s impartiality, integrity and independence,” Montgomery said in a statement. “Accordingly, I will not be available for comment for the foreseeable future.”

The MCAO press release included Montgomery’s message to workers in the office he is leaving.

“Over the last nine years, there have been too many moments, accomplishments, successes and innovations for me to be able to recite them all and run the risk of leaving anything out,” the message said. “Let me simply say that I never had a bad day at the office and I will miss the great men and women (and victim support K-9s) of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.”

Montgomery drew support from his fellow Republicans, who said he’s shown courage making difficult decisions as the top prosecutor in the nation’s fourth-largest county.

His critics say he’s been hostile to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. They also say he’s a barrier to efforts to reform criminal sentences, which have gained traction elsewhere.

According to ABC15, an ethics complaint was filed against Montgomery on Tuesday claiming he violated state bar rules by not properly supervising prosecutor Juan Martinez.

Martinez, known for the Jodi Arias case, has faced several ethics complaints since 2015, including for sexual harassment.

Montgomery was elected as metro Phoenix’s top county prosecutor in 2010, succeeding a prosecutor who had teamed up with then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio to criminally investigate officials who were at odds with them in political and legal disputes. The discredited investigations later resulted in the disbarment of the prosecutor who led them.

Montgomery is credited with moving beyond the divisive era. But he also drew criticism for carrying out prosecutions of Arpaio investigations of immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally. He was a forceful advocate of a voter-approved law that required immigrants to be denied bail for certain offenses, before it was thrown out by the courts.

His office also handled the 2015 freeway shootings case that ended with the dismissal of charges against the only person arrested in the attacks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Gov. Ducey appoints Bill Montgomery to Arizona Supreme Court