Despite ethics complaint, Maricopa prosecutor Montgomery named to Az Supreme Court
The controversial top prosecutor in Maricopa County, Bill Montgomery, was named to Arizona's highest court by Gov. Doug Ducey on Wednesday — a day after allegations of a cover-up of misconduct in his office were filed.
Ducey announced his pick of a new justice Wednesday afternoon, saying Montgomery has "served with honor and integrity" and "cleaned up an office that was in disarray and mired in controversy."
The Republican governor said that "Bill's record, resume and extensive list of supporters speak to his qualifications and his broad support in the community."
Montgomery, a Republican, was elected as Maricopa county attorney in 2010, and has attracted controversy of his own, including ire from civil-liberties groups and advocates of criminal justice reform.
Montgomery "has filled up Arizona prisons with people who don’t need to be there. He’s a politician who lets personal biases drive his prosecutorial practices and policy decisions," said the ACLU, which campaigned against his appointment, saying that the prosecutor has no experience as a judge.
Ducey "chose the most unqualified candidate on the list to serve on the highest court in Arizona," the ACLU said Wednesday.
The appointment shows "complete disregard for Arizona's most marginalized communities who've been deeply hurt by Montgomery's harsh and intolerant policies," the civil rights group said. "Let's be clear: Montgomery would have never been considered for this seat if he weren't allowed to operate with unchecked power for a decade as county attorney."
Ducey's allies welcomed the choice.
"Bill Montgomery will make an outstanding Supreme Court justice. This is a superb choice by Gov. Ducey," said Glenn Hamer, president of the
Arizona Chamber of Commerce. "Having known Bill for over a decade and having had the privilege of serving on his Business Advisory Council, I can attest to his legal wisdom, his integrity, and his love for this state and this country. He is a true American success story."
Montgomery is Ducey's fifth appointment to the state Supreme Court, which was expanded to seven members at Ducey's urging. It is also Ducey's second such appointment this year.
Montgomery was vetted by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments for a previous vacancy on the court last winter, but was not chosen as a finalist. This summer, he was reviewed by a revamped commission that included new members appointed by the governor.
Tuesday, lawyers for convicted murderer Jodi Arias filed a complaint with the State Bar, alleging that Montgomery covered up misconduct by prosecutors in his office in the 2013 case. Montgomery allowed longtime prosecutor Juan Martinez to engage in unethical conduct and worked to keep it secret, including failing to release public records of his office's internal review of Martinez.
The bar complaint also says Montgomery improperly allowed Martinez to write a book about the Arias case before appeals were completed, a violation of ethics rules. It also says Martinez improperly allowed certain bloggers after-hours access to restricted areas of the County Attorney's Office while under Montgomery's supervision, and that Montgomery repeatedly gave Martinez raises and complimentary evaluations while a "pervasive pattern of misconduct" continued.
Montgomery said Tuesday night that "Political agendas and special interests should not be allowed to have a place when it comes to the ethical responsibilities of a prosecutor. I await a full and timely review of these inaccurate claims that have been previously reviewed and found to be without merit."
Along with the ACLU, other progressive groups have criticized Montgomery for his opposition to marijuana legalization, right-wing stance on LGBT rights and his opposition to sentencing reform. Montgomery was also criticized for working with former Sheriff Joe Arpaio to prosecute immigrants suspected of being in the country without legal status. In 2015, his office handled a freeway shootings case in which the only person arrested had charges against them dismissed.
One Democrat did offer congratulations. Sheriff Paul Penzone, who ousted Arpaio from office, tweeted that "Bill has provided great and consistent counsel and has devoted his life to public service."
Montgomery's appointment, which does not need the approval of the state Senate, fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Scott Bales.
Unlike federal Supreme Court justices who serve lifetime terms, Arizona's high court justices serve for six years but can be reappointed.
The vacancy in the Maricopa County office created by his elevation to the bench will be filled for the next year by a Republican appointed by the Board of Supervisors. Several Democrats have already filed to run for the prosecutor's office next year.
A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Montgomery served six and a half years of active duty in the Army, and is a Gulf War vetern. He received his law degree from Arizona State University's College of Law.
The previous justices appointed by Ducey are Clint Bolick, John Lopez, Andrew Gould, and James Beene, who was named earlier this year.