Proposition 115 threatens Arizona's system for selecting judges based on merit rather than politics, because it would lower the barrier to political intrusion, says a lawyer who heads opposition to it.

The changes would improve the system and provide the voting public with more information about their judges and the judicial system, says a legislative leader who is a proponent of it.

JoJene Mills, a Tucson lawyer who chairs the "No on 115" committee, and Andy Tobin, Republican speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, made their cases for and against Proposition 115 for Friday's Arizona Week broadcast.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Mills said. " ... We're fixing it because a small group of politicians wants to take control of how we select judges in the state, and that's very dangerous."

Tobin disagreed, saying the proposal came from a compromise that involved the judges' association, the State Bar of Arizona and legislators from both political parties.

"This is well supported by a lot of judges," Tobin said. "They say, 'Hey, yeah, that's some common-sense changes.' It's no power grab."

The proposition would give the governor power to appoint 14 of the 15 members of the commissions that review and recommend judgeship applicants, and it would require the commissions to submit a minimum of eight names rather than the current minimum of three for each vacancy.

It also would extend the terms of Supreme Court justices from six years to eight, and those of lower-court judges in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties from four years to eight. In addition, it would change the retirement age for justices and judges from 70 to 75.

Superior Court judges in the state's 12 less-populous counties will continue to be elected in nonpartisan races.

The most contentious part of Proposition 115 may be the clause that would allow the legislature to call sitting justices and judges before a committee to testify on their records and actions in advance of their names appearing on the ballot for retention.

Mills called that "dangerous," saying the "made-for-TV" public hearing atmosphere it would create has the potential to intimidate judges and keep good candidates from applying.

Tobin said it would serve to give the public a look at the judicial decision-making process, shedding light on a system that now has little transparency.

Also on Arizona Week, public policy analyst E.J. Perkins of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy offers explanations and analysis of Propositions 118, 119 and 120, all dealing with management of public lands in the state.

Read Proposition 115 here: View at Google Docs | Download File