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Judge to hear arguments on halting redistricting selection process

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge will hear arguments Thursday morning over whether to temporarily halt the selection process for the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission during a lawsuit seeking to disqualify two finalists for the panel.

House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, and Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, sued the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments on Friday to strike two of the five independent candidates for the position of AIRC chair. They argued that attorney Thomas Loquvam is ineligible because he is a registered lobbyist with the Corporation Commission, and that Flagstaff gun store owner Robert Wilson isn't truly an independent, though he appears to meet all the legal criteria for serving as an independent.

The speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives makes the first selection to the redistricting commission, followed by the House minority leader, president of the state Senate and the Senate minority leader. Speaker Rusty Bowers selected Tucson developer David Mehl, a Republican, as the first member of the AIRC on Oct. 22, which started a seven-day clock for Fernandez to make her pick.

Fernandez wants Judge Janice Crawford to stop that clock until the lawsuit is resolved. Otherwise, she'll have to make her pick by Friday.

Attorney Jim Barton, who represents the Democratic leaders, said he hopes Crawford will rule from the bench and that they'll have an answer regarding their request for a temporary restraining order on Thursday. The hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m.

Robbie Sherwood, a spokesman for the House Democrats, said Fernandez won't make a selection until she finds out whether the judge will grant her request. Hopefully they'll know by late Thursday, he said.

The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which vets AIRC candidates and selects the 25 finalists — 10 Democrats, 10 Republicans and five independents — met on Monday via Zoom to receive legal advice from the Attorney General's Office regarding the lawsuit. The Attorney General's Office provided that advice in an executive session, meaning it's confidential and not subject to public disclosure.

The AIRC consists of two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent who serves as chair. Because he or she must break any ties between the four partisan commissioners, both parties traditionally seek to block anyone they view as biased toward the other side. Democrats have already raised objections with three of the five independent finalists: Loquvam, Wilson and Erika Neuberg.

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This isn't the first time legislative leaders have sued to remove applicants from the list of finalists.

In December 2010, Kirk Adams and Russell Pearce, then the House speaker and Senate president, respectively, sued to remove two Republican candidates and one independent from the list of finalists. The Arizona Supreme Court ultimately disqualified the two GOP applicants but let the independent remain on the list. Richard Stertz, one of the Republicans chosen to replace the ousted candidates, was later appointed to the AIRC.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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