Arizona has two appellate courts: The Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals is the intermediate appellate court, and the Supreme Court is the court of last resort.
Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals was established in 1965 as the first level of appeal up from superior court. Division One, in Phoenix, has 16 judges, and Division Two, in Tucson, has six judges initially appointed to office by the Governor and subject to retention election for regular terms of six years.
The Court of Appeals:
• Hears and decides cases in three-judge panels.
• Has jurisdiction in all matters properly appealed from superior court.
• Reviews all decisions properly appealed to it.
Court of Appeals, Division One, has statewide responsibility for appeals from the Industrial Commission, unemployment compensation rulings of the Department of Economic Security, and rulings by the Tax Court.
The appeals process is generally the same for both civil and criminal cases. There are filing fees in civil cases, but not for criminal cases.
Each division of the Court of Appeals has a clerk of the court and other support personnel. A clerk of the court maintains official records and case files and handles the administrative duties of the court. The clerk’s duties are outlined in A.R.S. § 12-120.09.
Court of Appeals Judge Qualifications
A Court of Appeals judge must be:
• At least 30 years old;
• Of good moral character, and
• An Arizona resident and admitted to the practice of law in Arizona for the five years immediately prior to taking office.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court’s primary judicial duties under Article VI § 5 of the Arizona Constitution are to review appeals and to provide rules of procedure for all the courts in Arizona. It is the highest court in Arizona and is often called the court of last resort.
The Supreme Court has discretionary jurisdiction, meaning that the court may refuse to review the findings of the lower court. The Supreme Court automatically reviews every case in which a defendant has been sentenced to death.
Supreme Court Justices
The Supreme Court has five justices initially appointed to office by the Governor and subject to retention election for regular terms of six years. One justice is selected by fellow justices to serve as Chief Justice for a five-year term. Besides handling case work like the other justices, the Chief Justice oversees the administrative operations of all Arizona courts.
The Supreme Court:
• May choose to review a Court of Appeals decision when a party (the plaintiff or the defendant in the original case) files a petition for review.
• Always hears the appeal when the superior court imposes a death sentence.
• Regulates activities of the State Bar of Arizona and oversees admission of new attorneys to the practice of law.
• Reviews charges of misconduct against attorneys and has the authority to suspend or disbar them.
• Serves as the final decision-making body when disciplinary recommendations are filed against Arizona judges by the Commission on Judicial Conduct.
The Court’s Role in the Impeachment Process
Impeachment is a political process designed to deal with public officials accused of committing high crimes, misdemeanors, or misconduct in office. The person is charged, tried, and, if convicted, removed from office.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over Senate impeachment trials, but renders no decision as to the guilt or innocence of the public official on trial. The Arizona House of Representatives, by a majority vote, initiates formal charges for an impeachable offense. Conviction for the impeachable offense requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate. If convicted, a public officer is removed from office. The Supreme Court’s role in the impeachment process is set out in Article VIII, Part 2, § 1 of the Arizona Constitution.
The Arizona Constitution authorizes the Supreme Court to appoint a clerk of the court and assistants. According to A.R.S. § 12-202, the clerk must attend sessions of the court; issue legal paperwork; enter all court orders, judgments and decrees; keep other books of record, and perform other duties as required by law or the court. The clerk’s office maintains the court’s official files and assists in scheduling matters for decisions and oral arguments. The clerk’s office is also responsible for publishing and distributing the court’s written opinions.
Supreme Court Justice Qualifications
A Supreme Court justice:
• Must be admitted to the practice of law in Arizona and be an Arizona resident for the ten years immediately before taking office;
• May not practice law while a member of the judiciary;
• May not hold any other political office or public employment;
• May not hold office in any political party;
• May not campaign, except for himself or herself, and
• Must retire at age 70.