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DIGGING DEEPER: Retired judge weighs in on Prop 123 controversy

TUCSON – A retired State Supreme Court judge reacted to the governor’s comments against a fellow judge.

Earlier this month, Federal District Judge Neil Wake ruled against Gov. Doug Ducey on Proposition 123 – a measure that allowed the state to tap into a land trust for education funding.

The judge ruled the state took and spent money illegally. This occurred after an Arizona resident, Michael Pierce sued Ducey on the grounds that Prop 123 was illegal because he didn’t get prior congressional approval.

Judge Neil Wake ruled the state took and spent money illegally.

“Judge Wake’s order and opinion said you have illegally invaded the principal of the trust and you can’t do that. Proposition 123 violated the Enabling Act,” Retired Supreme Court Judge Stanley Feldman said. “Gov. Ducey blew his top.”

Ducey told reporters shortly after the opinion came out that “Judge Wake puts on a robe in the morning and thinks he’s God.” He also mentioned that it was time for the judge to retire.

“Personal attacks on a judge doing his or her job and judges are unable to respond is just not right,” Feldman said. “We have too much in that country now.”

A spokesman for the governor took to Twitter to respond to the judge’s decision earlier this month.

Our administration’s response to the most recent incoherent, poorly reasoned decision issued by Federal Judge Neil Wake regarding Prop 123 funding for schools: The decision is terrible and will be overturned on appeal. Rarely before have we seen such a blatant disregard of facts, precedent and common sense to push forward the agenda of one biased, activist judge.

“The remedy when you are unhappy with a decision to is to appeal not make personal attacks on the judge, trying to intimidate that judge or others,” Feldman said. “That’s not the way we should be doing things in this country.”

Feldman said the governor is entitled to express his First Amendment right.

“The governor is free to say what he wants to say,” he said. “But when he makes personal attacks on the judge, he not only shows disrespect for our legal system, he encourages disrespect from others.”

The retired chief justice read the opinion and said, “I think the opinion whether it’s upheld on appeal or not was thoughtful, insightful, well-reasoned, logical and detailed.”

News 4 Tucson contacted the governor’s office and received this statement that read in part:

This judge stopped being a judge and started being a politician. He didn’t issue a judicial opinion, he issued a personal opinion full of inaccuracies and statements that were out of line for his position on the bench. We stand by our statements.

Feldman said he knows Wake and knows him to be very competent.

When asked if he had contacted the judge about the governor’s comments, he replied: “No, of course not that would be improper.”

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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