The Arizona Judicial Branch is an integrated, but decentralized, judicial system implementing its constitutional and statutory responsibilities throughout all levels of government - state, county, and city. The Judicial Branch consists of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Superior Court, and limited jurisdiction (municipal and justice of peace) courts. The Arizona Constitution provides for the administrative supervision over all courts to rest with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Administrative Office of the Courts is charged with assisting the Chief Justice in discharging his/her administrative duties.
The mission of the Arizona Judicial Branch is to provide Arizona citizens with an independent, accessible, and integrated judicial system that maintains a high degree of public trust and confidence; serves as an asset by dispensing justice, resolving human disputes, and conducting its administrative functions in a fair, equitable, and just manner; operating efficiently and expeditiously.
Today's Court System Has Three Levels
Limited jurisdiction courts are justice and municipal (or city) courts. These courts have jurisdiction over a limited variety of cases. They are nonrecord courts, meaning that permanent records of court proceedings are not required. However, some courts do make a record of proceedings.
The general jurisdiction court is the Superior Court of Arizona, a statewide trial court. This court hears the widest variety of cases and keeps permanent records of court proceedings.
The state appellate courts have jurisdiction to review trials and decisions appealed to them. Most appeals come from the superior court, except for death penalty appeals and some cases involving elected officials and disputes between counties, which go directly to the Supreme Court.
To appeal a decision from the court of appeals, the appellant must file a Petition for Review requesting a Supreme Court hearing. The Supreme Court judges, known as justices, evaluate the petitions for review and decide whether they will review the case. Unlike the court of appeals, the Supreme Court is not required to hear every appeal.
Arizona Courts: The Historical Perspective
|December 9, 1910: The Arizona Constitutional Convention completed Arizona’s Constitution and sent it to the people for ratification. Article VI of the constitution created the judicial system.
|February 14, 1912: President Taft declared statehood for Arizona.
|The Arizona Legislature established superior, juvenile and justice of the peace courts.
|The Arizona Legislature established police (municipal) courts for each of the state’s incorporated cities and towns.
Voters approved the Modern Courts Amendment, which amended Article VI and:
- gave the Supreme Court administrative supervision over all courts of the state;
- increased the number of Supreme Court justices from three to five;
- gave the Supreme Court authority to make rules governing all procedural matters in any court;
- authorized creation of the court of appeals;
- required that justices and judges not practice law or hold any other public office or employment during their term of office;
- required that they hold no office in any political party or campaign in any election other than their own; and,
- required that Supreme Court justices, court of appeals judges and superior court judges must retire at age 70.
|Legislation established the court of appeals.
|Voters establish the Commission on Judicial Qualifications (now called Commission on Judicial Conduct). The Commission investigates complaints against any judge in the state.
|Voters approve merit selection and retention election of justices for the Supreme Court and judges for the court of appeals. This system also applies to judges for the superior court in counties with 150,000 or more people (at present, Maricopa and Pima Counties). In 1992, voters changed this population cutoff to 250,000, still limiting it to the two most populated counties.
The amendment requires the governor to appoint these judges from lists of highly qualified candidates screened and nominated by the Commission on Appellate and Trial Court Appointments. All other counties currently elect their judges, but are authorized to use the merit selection process if approved by a majority of the county voters.
|Voters approve Proposition 109, an amendment to the constitution that requires public input and the establishment of a process to review judges’ job performances.
Performance reports are distributed to the public prior to each general election. This process includes surveys from jurors, witnesses, litigants, administrative staff and attorneys who have interacted with the judge in a judicial setting. The public provides input through written comment and public hearings.
In addition, public committees screen and recommend candidates to the governor for membership on three commissions that nominate judges to fill vacancies on the bench. The number of persons involved in the merit selection process increased from 15 to 109 committee and commission members. One statewide committee with nine non-attorney members serves the Appellate Nominating Commission, and 10 committees of seven members (five for each county) serve Pima County’s and Maricopa County’s Judicial Nominating Commissions.