PHOENIX - Unofficial results from Maricopa County show that three judges who are in this year's judicial retention election are at risk of losing their positions on the bench.
According to unofficial numbers that were last updated on the night of Nov. 15, the ‘no’ votes are in the lead for Rusty D. Crandell, Stephen Matthew Hopkins, and Howard D. Sukenic.
The proportion of ‘no’ votes for Crandell, Hopkins and Sukenic are 52%, 63%, and 60%, respectively, based on the unofficial numbers.
All three judges appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey
According to the website of the Arizona Commission on Judicial Performance Review, all three are Superior Court Judges in Maricopa County, with Hopkins and Sukenic serving as criminal judges. Crandell was a judge in family court.
Of the three judges, only Hopkins was deemed to have not met Judicial Performance Standards, with 15 commissioners having voted that he does not meet the standards.
Hopkins was target of censure in 2020
According to documents obtained from the website of the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct, Hopkins was reprimanded in June 2020, as a result of complaints filed by public defender James J. Haas and Barbara Marshall, an attorney with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.
The complaints allege that Hopkins was at the center of six incidents involving what was described as "improper demeanor and a denial of the right to be heard." The incidents involved separate legal cases from May 2019 to January 2020.
"In his response, Judge Hopkins only minimally accepted responsibility for his own conduct, claiming it was sometimes justified by the rude behavior of either the attorney or the litigant," read a portion of the reprimand. "The Commission did not find any of the conduct to be justified, and the obligations placed on a judge by the Code are not dependent upon how a judge is treated by those who appear before them."
As part of the reprimand, Hopkins was ordered by the Commission to complete demeanor training within a year of the order's issuance.
Rejection in judicial retention elections uncommon
In our explainer article on judicial retention elections in Arizona, we noted that from 1978 to the present day, voters in Arizona have only voted to not retain three judges in two elections: Court of Appeals judge Gary K. Nelson and Maricopa County Superior Court judge Fred J. Hyder in 1978, and Maricopa County Superior Court judge Benjamin Norris in 2014.
It is also worth noting that in at least one instance, voters have voted to retain a judge who was convicted of a crime.
According to a 1991 Los Angeles Times article, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Philip Marquardt was retained by voters in the 1988 election, despite being convicted of a misdemeanor marijuana offense that year. Results from the Arizona Secretary of State's Office show 254,517 people voted to retain Marquardt, compared to 251,246 people who voted not to retain him. The margin for Marquardt's retention was noticeably smaller than that of other judges in that year's retention election.
Maricopa County is one of four Arizona counties that have judicial retention elections. All Arizonans vote in judicial retention elections, however, as State Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges also take part in retention elections.