On Friday, Governor Doug Ducey announced the appointments of James Drake, Ashley Villaverde Halvorson and Keith Miller to the Maricopa County Superior Court. These appointments are to fill vacancies created by the retirement of Judges Roger E. Brodman, Connie Coin Contes and Karen A. Mullins.
James “Jim” Drake has been serving as the nonpartisan, elected Chief Clerk and Counsel for the Arizona House of Representatives since 2015. In addition to overseeing 14 staff members, he works on questions of law regarding public records, parliamentary advice, constitutional issues, financial disclosure, and election law matters. Jim also works as of-counsel for Shannon and Fleming, P.C. in civil matters, particularly evidentiary hearings with self-represented litigants.
Prior to being elected Chief Clerk, Jim was the Assistant Secretary of State in the Secretary of State’s Office from 2009 to 2015. He oversaw approximately 140 employees under the State Law Library, State Elections, Business Services, and Archives and Public Records Divisions.
From 1996 to 2009, Jim held several positions in the Arizona House of Representatives, including Rules Attorney, Counsel to the Ethics Committee, Judiciary Committee Analyst, and Banking Committee Analyst/Staff Attorney. During his tenure as the nonpartisan Rules Attorney, Jim’s work was devoted almost exclusively to constitutional analysis under the Arizona and United States Constitutions. In addition, he has recommended and crafted amendments to cure constitutional infirmities on bills, consistently rendering nonpartisan opinions.
Jim also volunteers in the community, including as an active supporter of the Foundation for Blind Children. He has regularly participated with and guided blind and visually impaired children in a sailing expedition, Rim-to-Rim Grand Canyon hike, and swimming challenge from Alcatraz.
“Jim’s devotion to serving the public will serve the bench well. I am delighted to appoint him to the Maricopa County Superior Court,” said Governor Ducey.
Jim received his law degree from the California Western School of Law and his bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Arizona.
Ashley Villaverde Halvorson has spent her career at Jones Skelton & Hochuli, where she currently is a Partner. She primarily defends insurance companies in complex breach of contract and bad faith litigation. She also defends persons and businesses in personal injury/wrongful death litigation, including auto, premises, and dram shop liability. Additionally, Ashley was appointed as a Maricopa County Superior Court judge pro tem in 2018.
Ashley has been named a Southwest Super Lawyers Rising Star from 2013 to the present. In 2017, she was named one of the Top Lawyers Under 40 by the Hispanic National Bar Association.
Ashley has been a leader in improving diversity in the legal profession. She has been significantly involved with the Los Abogados Hispanic Bar Association, including serving as its President. Ashley has been a part of the Latina Mentoring Project since she was in law school and was its very first judicial pipeline candidate. She has also been an active member of the Hispanic National Bar Association and the State Bar of Arizona Committee on Minorities and Women in the Law. In 2020, she received the State Bar of Arizona’s Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Award, which annually recognizes an attorney, judge, employer, organization or bar association that significantly advances diversity and inclusion in the Arizona legal community through creative, strategic, or innovative efforts.
“Ashley’s civil litigation experience and involvement in the community will allow her to be a strong contributor, and I am pleased to appoint her to the Maricopa County Superior Court,” said Governor Ducey.
Ashley received her bachelor’s degree cum laude in Political Science and her law degree from Arizona State University.
Keith Miller has been serving as an Associate Attorney at Fennemore since January 2020, where he primarily practices in business litigation representing a variety of clients in matters pending in state and federal courts, as well as in mediation. Additionally, he has represented clients in matters pending before state and local administrative agencies.
From 2015 to 2019, Keith was an Assistant Attorney General at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. He initially was part of the Federalism Unit in the Solicitor General’s Office, where he was involved with several pieces of high profile litigation involving constitutional issues. In addition, he served on the Opinions Review Committee and Ethics Review Committee. He then worked in the Environmental Enforcement Section as counsel to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
Keith also worked as an Assistant Legal Counsel and Assistant Director of Career Services for Hillsdale College in Michigan from 2011 to 2015. During this time, he also coached the college’s mock trial team for 2 seasons, finishing a season with the college’s highest ranking ever.
Prior to that, Keith was a law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge James Teilborg in Phoenix from 2009 to 2011. Upon graduating from law school, Keith was an Associate Attorney at O’Melveny in Newport Beach, California from 2008 to 2009.
“Keith has a broad amount of legal experience from the private to public sectors, and I am thrilled to appoint him to the Maricopa County Superior Court,” said Governor Ducey.
Keith received his law degree from Columbia Law School and his bachelor’s degree magna cum laude in Mathematics and History from Hillsdale College.
On Monday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper ruled that many laws passed within the recent budget were unconstitutional. Cooper stated that the legislation violated the single subject rule of the Arizona Constitution. The case, Arizona School Boards Association Inc., et al., v. State of Arizona, et al. (CV2021-012741) had a total of 15 plaintiffs. In all, Cooper’s ruling impacted a variety of budget-related bills, or BRBs: HB2898, SB1824, SB1825, and struck down SB1819 in its entirety.
“Subject and title of bills[:] Section 13. Every act shall embrace but one subject and matters properly connected therewith, which subject shall be expressed in the title; but if any subject shall be embraced in an act which shall not be expressed in the title, such an act shall be void only as to so much thereof as shall not be embraced in the title.” (emphasis added)
In a copy of the opinion obtained by 12 News, Cooper asserted that Section 13 was made with the intent to prevent “logrolling”: inserting a multiplicity of subjects into one bill in order to push a vote through. The judge supported her claim with Arizona Supreme Court precedent. In explaining her decision to strike down all of SB1819, a sweeping bill that expanded voter registration, modified ballot security requirements, removed the secretary of state’s legal authority over election laws, established an election integrity fund, limited the length of public health emergencies, and created a special committee to audit the voter rolls, among other things.
“No matter how liberally one construes the concept of ‘subject’ for the single subject rule, the array of provisions are in no way related to nor connected with each other or to an identifiable ‘budget procedure.’ The bill is classic logrolling – a medley of special interests cobbled together to force a vote for all or none,” wrote Cooper. “In this case, the State’s view would allow the Legislature to re-define ‘budget reconciliation’ to mean anything it chooses. Going forward, the Legislature could add any policy or regulatory provision to a BRB, regardless of whether the measure was necessary to implement the budget, without notice to the public. The State’s idea of ‘subject’ is not and cannot be the law.” (emphasis added)
Cooper also asserted that the bills in question weren’t in compliance with the state constitution’s requirement that bill titles clearly reflect the content of the legislation.
In striking down the entirety of SB1819, Cooper explained that prior court decisions don’t allow for severability to salvage portions of the bill.
“When an act violates the single subject rule, the whole act fails,” stated Cooper.
Whereas for the other bills, Cooper explained that the certain provisions banning mask, vaccine, and testing mandates; critical race theory education; and vaccine passports weren’t reflected in the bill titles. Therefore, they were invalid.
As AZ Free News reported last week, the main plaintiff in the case, Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA), recently hosted a law conference where photos showed attendees maskless and not social distancing, though spokespersons informed us that masks were required. ASBA also told us they encouraged some attendees to take off masks momentarily and group together for pictures.
The mask mandate ban would’ve gone into effect on Wednesday.
Governor Doug Ducey’s spokesperson characterized the ruling as “judicial overreach.” The governor’s office promised that they would challenge the ruling.
“We are still reviewing the ruling, but this decision is clearly an example of judicial overreach. Arizona’s state government operates with three branches, and it’s the duty and authority of only the legislative branch to organize itself and to make laws,” stated Ducey’s spokesman. “Unfortunately, today’s decision is the result of a rogue judge interfering with the authority and processes of another branch of government. Further action will be taken to challenge this ruling and ensure separation of powers is maintained.”
Whether a new state law concerning mask mandates is effective now, or doesn’t go into force until Sept. 29 is the question a Maricopa County judge must answer, but even he admits the final decision will be made by someone else.
Judge Randall Warner held oral arguments Friday morning in a petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) requested by Douglas Hester against his employer, Phoenix Union High School District, which recently announced a mandatory mask policy for its students, parents, and staff when on school property, including buses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommend K-12 students, parents, and staff wear masks when indoors even if vaccinated for COVID-19. Phoenix Union and at least nine other districts across the state have announced or implemented mask mandate.
Hester contends the new state law barring cities, towns, charter and public schools, community colleges, and public universities from ordering or enforcing any such mandated mask usage became effective June 30.
One or both the sides in the case could appeal Warner’s decision on the effective date of the no-mask mandate statute, depending on how he rules and the reasoning behind his decision. Warner acknowledged as such Friday when he said his ultimate duty in the case is to “tee it up for the Supreme Court” and let the justices make the final ruling
Hester, a science teacher for the district, contends HB2898, the K-12 Education Budget Reconciliation Bill which created the new law, is already in effect due to a retroactive clause. Therefore, he wants Warner to issue a TRO to block enforcement of Phoenix Union’s new policy.
Phoenix Union, through its attorney Mary O’Grady, opposes any TRO. O’Grady also filed a motion on the district’s behalf asking Warner to dismiss the case. It is the district’s position that the effective date of the new statute is not until Sept. 29, the ninety-first day after the legislative session ended.
The district also questioned why legislators would include a retroactive effective date if the new law took effect on the schedule Hester’s attorney Alex Kolodin contends is in place.
According to Kolodin, the 90-day provision does not apply to HB2898m the K-12 Budget reconciliation bill. He argued Friday that is one reason appropriations bills are not subject to voter referendums.
“The retroactivity clause, the governor, and members of the Legislature have all expressed their intent was for schools to not be able to do this after June 30 by putting in that retroactivity clause,” he argued.
Hester named the Phoenix Union District and its eight board members as defendants. Warner’s decision is expected next week.
As the Senate-authorized audit of 2.1 million Maricopa County ballots continues, a judge announced Thursday he will hear arguments in a lawsuit about whether communications, reports, and other documents between Senators, their contracted auditors, and volunteers are public records.
Judge Michael Kemp of the Maricopa County Superior Court has set July 7 for oral arguments in the case filed earlier this month by American Oversight, a Washington DC-based nonprofit which has been trying since April to obtain records related to planning, procedures, costs, and payments for the election audit.
Several audit-related documents have been turned over to American Oversight by Norm Moore, the Senate’s public records attorney, before and after the May 20 lawsuit was filed. However, Moore has also responded that the Senate “does not have in its possession, custody or control” many of the documents American Oversight wants.
Those records are reportedly in the possession, custody, and control of Florida-based Cyber Ninjas, the company Senate President Karen Fann selected back in March to conduct the audit “on behalf of the Senate.” Cyber Ninjas is being paid through public funds, and is also believed to be receiving “donations” to cover the costs of its work as well as that of various subcontractors.
Other records are believed to be under the control of subcontractors as well as Ken Bennett, a former Arizona Secretary of State serving as the Senate’s liaison with the auditors.
The legal issue for Kemp is whether the companies and non-government employees involved in the audit are subject to Arizona Revised Statute 39-121, the state’s public records law. Attorneys for American Oversight contend the Senate’s position goes against the spirit and the letter of Arizona’s public records law which is based on a presumption of public access.
In an April 6 letter to Fann, the company noted access to the requested records “would contribute significantly to public understanding of operations of the government, including whether or to what extent partisan political considerations influenced the senate’s decision to pursue an additional audit, or guided the selection of the auditing team.”
The defendants in American Oversight’s lawsuit include the Senate as a public body, as well as Fann and Sen. Warren Petersen. It was Petersen, as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who joined Fann in signing a subpoena served on Maricopa County in January to obtain access to the county’s voting system equipment, election records, and original ballots.
Judge Kemp also set a June 9 deadline for the Senate to file for dismissal of the lawsuit which, if filed, would be heard July 7 before the other arguments.