Eight of the Last Nine Judges Appointed to the Bench in Maricopa County are Former Commissioners

by Vincent Funari

PHOENIX (September 6, 2023) – Commissioners keep proving they are among the most qualified candidates for judicial appointments.

Eight of the last nine judges appointed in Maricopa County by the Governor of Arizona were former commissioners.

“Working as a Commissioner for almost five years before my judge appointment gave me immeasurable experience, especially in managing high-volume calendars while maintaining patience and respect for the parties appearing before me. Commissioner calendars can be ‘trial by fire,’ and the skills I learned have left me confident that I can serve in any assignment in the courthouse,” Judge Melissa Zabor said.

A litigant or someone observing court would not know the difference between a commissioner and judge. Commissioners wear the same robe, sit on the same bench and have similar authority and duties as a judge but most people have never heard of the position.

“When my friends and family found out I was a commissioner, their first question was usually – commissioner of what?  While the title is a little vague, a commissioner is just another term for judicial officer,” Judge Geoffrey Fish said. 

The Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County employs 67 commissioners who handle a variety of cases in every department. Many of them have spent their entire judicial careers as a commissioner, while others have used their commissioner experience to apply to become a Superior Court judge. Approximately one-third of the 98 judges on the Bench were once commissioners.

“Commissioners are vital to the success of the Superior Court as they are the first ‘face of the court’ a litigant sees, handle high volume calendars and are able to resolve a large portion of the court’s business at an early stage in proceedings,” Judge Fish said.

Unlike judges, commissioners are appointed by Superior Court's presiding judge, not the Governor. They are selected from a list of attorneys who apply and are recommended by a selection committee made up of judges, lawyers and members of the public.

“The application process to become a commissioner requires multiple steps and takes several weeks, if not months. The process requires a lengthy written application and a multi-level interview process, including a large panel interview, which for some, can be quite nerve racking,” Commissioner Jeffrey Altieri said. “Upon completion of the process the anticipation of a phone call from the presiding judge is comparable to the wait for an acceptance letter for college or graduate school. This is not an easy process, but being a commissioner has exceeded my expectations as a profession thanks to the collegiality of the bench and the reward of working hard every day to make a difference in my community.”

According to Arizona Revised Statutes, the presiding judge in counties having three or more superior court judges may appoint court commissioners to serve at their pleasure. Their powers and duties are governed by statute and the Arizona Supreme Court. Commissioners receive an annual salary set by the presiding judge, which may not exceed 90% of the salary of a Superior Court judge and their job performance is evaluated by the public periodically. The Arizona Supreme Court publishes and maintains commissioner evaluation reports on their website: https://www.azcourts.gov/commissionerreview/MaricopaCounty.aspx.

To become a commissioner, a candidate must be a United States citizen, a resident of Maricopa County at the time of appointment and a licensed member of the State Bar of Arizona who has resided in the State of Arizona for at least five years prior to their appointment. 

“Being a commissioner is extremely rewarding as you are fulfilling your role as a public servant. The opportunity to effect positive change in the lives of people is the most attractive aspect of being a commissioner. However, if you are interested in the position only for the power and prestige, being a commissioner is not for you,” Commissioner Phemonia Miller said. “You must come with a servant heart and ready to work. The job is very demanding and requires one to be flexible, manage large caseloads and complete work in a timely manner. It is a lot of work but work that is worth doing.  The hearts you touch and the lives you change are few of the benefits of being a commissioner.” 

To learn more about commissioner recruitment and applying, please visit: https://superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/human-resources/commissioner-recruitments/

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