PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey named Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to the Arizona Supreme Court on Wednesday, rejecting critics’ complaints about his views on issues including gay civil rights and medical marijuana.
The appointment — Ducey’s fifth to the seven-member court — came one day after an ethics complaint was filed against Montgomery accusing him of failing to properly supervise Juan Martinez, one of his top prosecutors. Martinez himself is currently under investigation on separate ethics charges.
Ducey brushed aside the new complaint, telling reporters to instead look to a statement issued on Montgomery’s behalf by former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl saying that the county attorney would make “an excellent addition to the court.”
And Ducey, in a conversation with reporters earlier Wednesday, before the appointment was announced, said he found the timing of the complaint “pretty suspicious.”
But it means Montgomery will be sitting on the high court with a pending complaint, creating a potential for conflicts as issues of discipline ultimately are decided by the Supreme Court.
Attorney Karen Clark, who filed the complaint, said it was not about politics or timing. She said the complaint was filed when it was because Montgomery has so far failed to comply with the state’s public records laws and release the findings of an internal investigation into Martinez’s conduct.
Ethics complaint aside, the controversies surrounding Montgomery go deeper.
Both the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal fought to keep him from even being nominated for the court amid claims that Montgomery, in his official position, discriminated against same-sex couples.
Also, in 2015, Montgomery sought to undermine Ducey’s policy for state agencies that same-sex couples deserve the same legal protections as heterosexual couples when adopting a child.
Montgomery also waged several legal battles against medical marijuana even after a 2010 vote by Arizonans to approve the drug’s use for those who have a doctor’s recommendation.
There was no mention of any of that in Ducey’s prepared statement.
“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,” the governor wrote.
“More broadly, I was looking for an individual who wants to interpret the law, not someone who wants to write the law,” he continued. “That’s the job of the Legislature.”
The choice was praised by conservatives, including Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, who tweeted, “Bill Montgomery is a Conservative and will honor the Constitution.”
The fact that Ducey now has named five of the justices was helped along by the decision by the Republican-controlled Legislature to gave him two quick picks when it voted in 2016 to expand the size of the court by two, to seven.
That leaves Justices Ann Scott Timmer and Robert Brutinel as the only non-Ducey appointees on the state’s high court. Both were tapped by Ducey predecessor Jan Brewer. And both, like Brewer and Ducey, are Republicans.
Officially, the court now consists of six Republicans and one Libertarian, Clint Bolick. But Bolick, even before his appointment by Ducey, had long aligned himself with conservative issues, including serving as an attorney for the Goldwater Institute.
Montgomery replaces Democrat Scott Bales, appointed by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, who retired earlier this year.
The fact that Montgomery got this far in the process is itself related at least in part to Bales’ departure — and to some political appointments Ducey made.
Montgomery had applied for a different vacancy earlier this year, only to find that there were insufficient votes at the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which must screen nominees — and from whose list the governor must choose — to advance his name to Ducey.
Bales, as chief justice at the time, chaired the commission, and he asked Montgomery some questions about his strong beliefs.
Only five of the 12 commissioners supported Montgomery’s nomination at that time.
With Bales retired, that elevated Robert Brutinel to chief justice and commission chair. And under Brutinel, the only questions asked of Montgomery were the same prepared questions asked of all of the other applicants