PHOENIX — A judge declined Thursday to delay appointment of more members to the Independent Redistricting Commission while she hears arguments about whether two of the nominees are legally qualified to serve.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Janice Crawford said the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which made the nominations, had a chance to investigate the backgrounds of all the applicants, including the two that top Democratic lawmakers contend are ineligible.
The nominating commission also took public testimony, potentially providing an opportunity at that time for anyone to raise objections, she said.
Crawford said the Democrats are belatedly asking her to bring the process to a temporary halt and set aside constitutionally set deadlines for making appointments, which she is unwilling to do.
That, however, does not end the matter. Attorney Jim Barton, who represents the Democratic lawmakers, said he still will pursue their claim that the two are not qualified to serve.
In the meantime, Crawford’s decision not to stop the clock forced House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, to meet the Thursday afternoon deadline of making her appointment to the panel, which will draw the lines for Arizona’s congressional and legislative districts for the coming decade.
Fernandez tapped Tempe Democrat Shereen Lerner, whom she described as an award-winning anthropology and archaeology professor at Mesa Community College “as well as a deeply committed community leader and volunteer.”
With no further delay in the process, the next pick goes to Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott. She must make her choice by Nov. 5.
Then, within seven days of Fann’s action, Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, needs to make his choice.
The three members picked will join Tucson Republican developer David Mehl, chosen last week by House Speaker Russell Bowers, R-Mesa. The four members will then choose a fifth member from the five politically independent nominees to chair the panel.
It was the dispute over qualifications of two of those five independents, Thomas Loquvam and Robert Wilson, that sent the case to court.
Fernandez and Bradley pointed out that the 2000 voter-approved law creating the Independent Redistricting Commission prohibits anyone from serving who is a “registered paid lobbyist.”
Loquvam is a registered lobbyist for his employer, utility company Epcor, at the Arizona Corporation Commission.
But Crawford said Loquvam disclosed that fact to the screening panel. That panel apparently adopted the interpretation that it is only those who lobby the Legislature who are barred from serving on the redistricting commission.
Wilson, a Flagstaff gun shop owner, meets the minimum constitutional requirement of having been a registered political independent for at least three years, having not been affiliated with a party since 2005.
But Barton asked Crawford to determine if there was an effort to “perpetrate a fraud” on the system.
Those issues include Wilson hosting at least one political rally in his parking lot for the Trump campaign and, as political independents are entitled to do, choosing to vote in the Republican primary in several elections.
Barton contends Wilson is “behaving in every way as a Republican partisan” while being registered as an independent.
But here, too, Crawford said she won’t substitute her judgment for that of the nominating panel.
“It is unlikely that the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments was not fully apprised on the facts under which plaintiffs contend Mr. Wilson is not unbiased,” the judge wrote.
No date has been set for future court hearings.