Judge Rejects Democrat Leaders Bid To Pause Appointments To Independent Redistricting Commission


justice court
(Photo by Tim Evanson/Creative Commons)

The name of the second of five commissioners who will redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts next year was announced Thursday, just hours after the top two Democratic Party leaders of the Arizona legislature lost a legal challenge to put the selection process on hold.

Longtime Democrat Shereen Lerner was selected by House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez (D-Yuma) to serve on the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.  Lerner has been a professor at Mesa Community College since 1992, and the Tempe resident has served on several public commissions and boards over the years.

“Redistricting is an intense and highly challenging process that requires a combination of intelligence, communication skills and strength of character to succeed” Fernandez said in announcing the selection. “That is exactly what Dr. Lerner will bring to the Commission.”

Read more by Terri Jo Neff >>

Fernandez’s pick was made shortly after Judge Janice Crawford of the Maricopa County Superior denied a request by Fernandez and Senate Minority Leader David Bradley for a temporary restraining order to stop the deadline clock that started Oct. 22 when House Speaker Rusty Bowers appointed Pima County businessman David Mehl, a Republican, as the first of the five commissioners.

RELATED ARTICLE: Bowers Names Mehl As First Member Of State Independent Redistricting Commission

Lerner and Mehl were among 25 finalists put forth Oct. 9 by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments (CACA) chaired by Chief Justice Robert Brutinel of the Arizona Supreme Court. The finalists included 10 Democrats, 10 Republicans, and 5 Independents.

Democrats were admittedly caught off guard last week when Bowers picked Mehl far in advance of the Jan. 31, 2021 deadline. Some Democrats had expressed concerns with two of the Independents, including Robert Wilson whose non-partisanship came under attack for his decision to allow a Trump event on his property.

Wilson’s voting record shows he’s backed Republicans and Democrats in recent years. But James Barton, the attorney for Fernandez and Bradley, told Crawford the selection process needed to pause so his clients could question Wilson under oath to determine whether he is an Independent or if some fraud “or artifice” was being engaged in to cover up the fact he may “really be a Republican.”

Thomas Loquvam, the other Independent finalist under fire from Democrats, serves as general counsel and vice-president for utility company EPCOR USA. His work requires him to be registered as a lobbyist with the Arizona Corporation Commission but not with the state legislature.

Barton conceded the Democratic Party leadership took no formal action to challenge Wilson or Loquvam’s candidacy until Fernandez and Bradley filed for the temporary restraining order Oct. 23. And the judge alluded to that delay during Thursday morning’s hearing when she questioned whether it was simply too late to challenge specific finalists.

Although Crawford expressed some concern with whether Loquvam meets the spirit of the commission’s no-lobbyist qualification, she was not going to second-guess the CACA which spent months vetting candidates.

The judge also questioned a claim put forth by Barton that the redistricting selection process had been “short-circuited,” but the attorney was unable to point to any step or requirement that the CACA or Bowers had not complied with.

Crawford denied the request for a temporary restraining order, noting Fernandez and Bradley had not demonstrated they would likely prevail in the long run. Although Fernandez then announced Lerner to ensure compliance with her deadline, it’s unclear whether Bradley will appeal Thursday’s decision in order to continue the challenge to Wilson and Loquvem.

Under the Arizona Constitution, the five-member redistricting commission can include up to two registered Democrats and two registered Republicans, all of whom are appointed by the leadership of the state legislature. And no more than two of the four can be from the same county.

The third pick must be announced by Senate President Karen Fann, a Republican, within seven days of today’s announcement. Bradley will then have to make his selection within one week of Fann’s choice.

Once the four commissioners are announced they will select one of the five Independent finalists to serve as the fifth member and the commission chairperson. There is no restriction on residency of the fifth member.

The redistricting commission will start from scratch next year to establish district boundaries for Arizona’s existing nine Congressional districts and 30 legislative districts. The work will be especially critical as the state could gain an additional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives if 2020 census population numbers show an increase.