A Remarkable Jurist

By Jones, Charles E. | Albany Law Review, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

A Remarkable Jurist


Jones, Charles E., Albany Law Review


As of December 31, 2002, the Arizona Supreme Court lost a most remarkable jurist. Justice Stanley G. Feldman's twenty-year tenure as one of five members of the Arizona Supreme Court contributed not only a brilliant mind but an enormous capacity for work, an understanding of the law which far surpasses the ordinary, and above all, a human compassion for people who must rely on the system simply because they lack the means or the knowledge to go it alone.

Justice Feldman was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1982 by then-Governor Bruce Babbitt. His tenure began during the beginning years of the merit selection system in Arizona's appellate courts statewide and in the superior court in Arizona's two most heavily populated counties, Maricopa County and Pima County. In 1974, the voters of Arizona wisely decided that judges who sit on these courts should no longer be placed in office in the inevitable maelstrom of contested elections. Judicial elections were perceived as having adverse impact on the quality of judges and fostered widespread political influence, largely a consequence of the demands for campaign money.

Feldman came to the court under the merit system, and because politics had been largely removed from the judicial selection process, his appointment was based on merit, not party affiliation. His tenure has been marked by participation in literally thousands of decisions. He has authored hundreds of opinions, and his impact on the jurisprudence of Arizona has been phenomenal. Opinions authored by him became legal landmarks, including, among others, Darner Motor Sales, Inc. v. Universal Underwriters Insurance Co., (1) in which doctrines pertaining to contractual bad faith in the insurance industry and the right to rely on verbal representations by adverse contractual parties were introduced, and Wagenseller v. Scottsdale Memorial Hospital, (2) which protected employees against tortious wrongful discharge or discipline in violation of the law or policy of the state.

As a judge, Feldman became a constant reflection of the Hamiltonian principle:

   [C]ourts were designed to be an intermediate body between
   the people and the legislature, in order, among other things,
   to keep the latter within the limits assigned to their
   authority.... [W]here the will of the legislature, declared in
   its statutes, stands in opposition to that of the people,
   declared in the Constitution, the judges ought to be governed
   by the latter rather than the former. (3)

Feldman is a first-rate constitutional scholar, with particular emphasis on the Constitution of Arizona. He has consistently sought balance when weighing all the interests in cases that depend on constitutional interpretation, and he has relentlessly pursued a level playing field to protect the disadvantaged, as well as people otherwise unable to protect themselves.

Stanley Feldman served as the Chief Justice of Arizona from 1992 to 1997. Court reforms accomplished under his leadership are legion:

* The evidentiary discovery process in civil litigation under existing rules had become cumbersome, expensive, and mired in paper. Recognizing the need for change, Justice Feldman appointed Tom Zlaket and Bill Jones, both practicing lawyers, to chair a reform committee and recommend new procedural rules for pretrial discovery of relevant evidence in civil cases. The recommendations were adopted in Arizona, and federal courts nationwide followed suit. (Tom Zlaket was later appointed to the Supreme Court and followed Feldman as Chief Justice.)

* Justice Feldman also crafted a rule, later approved by the Supreme Court, which streamlined the procedure by which the court addresses and disposes of an increasingly large caseload that includes annually some 1,200 petitions for review, plus numerous other motions and special action proceedings. …

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