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Arizona Supreme Court Justice John R. Lopez IV

Airdate: March 2, 2017
We'll talk to Arizona Supreme Court Justice John R. Lopez IV, one of the new justices appointed by Governor Doug Ducey.

Guests:
  • John R. Lopez IV-Arizona Supreme Court Justice
Category: Legislature

Keywords: Supreme Court, Governor, justices,

View Transcript
JOSE CARDENAS: LAST YEAR, TWO NEW ARIZONA SUPREME COURT JUSTICE WERE SWORN IN FOR THE HIGH COURT AFTER THE GOVERNOR DOUG DUCEY EXPANDED THE COURT FROM FIVE JUSTICES TO SEVEN. REPUBLICANS ANDREW GOULD AND JOH. R LOPEZ THE 4TH WERE APPOINTED TO THE NEW SEATS AFTER THE GOVERNOR ADDED THE POST. JOINING ME NOW IS ONE OF THE NEW AZ SUPREME COURT JOHN R. LOPEZ THE 4TH. JUSTICE LOPEZ IT IS AN HONOR TO HAVE YOU ON THE SHOW. YOU KNOW, AS WE NOTED IN THE INTRO, IT WAS AN EXPANSION FROM FIVE TO SEVEN. SO THE PRACTICAL QUESTION IS WAS THERE ROOM ON THE BENCH FOR YOU AND WHAT ABOUT CHAMBERS?

JOHN R LOPEZ: FORTUNATELY THERE WAS ROOM ON THE BENCH FOR SEVEN JUSTICES. THE COURT WAS ORIGINALLY CONSTRUCTED IN THE COURTROOM AND IN CHAMBERS TO ACCOMMODATE SEVEN JUSTICES AND I BELIEVE THAT THE GOVERNOR MAY HAVE JOKED HE WASN'T EXPANDING THE COURT BUT FILLING IT TO THE PROPER AND INTENDED SIZE.

Jose: THERE WAS ALWAYS TALK THERE WOULD BE SEVEN. I WANT TO TALK ABOUT YOU ABOUT BACKGROUND AND CAREER AS A LAWYER IS FAIRLY WELL DOCUMENTED AND IMPRESSIVE. BUT TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND, WHERE YOU GREW UP, AND WHERE YOU ARE FROM.

JOHN R LOPEZ: SURE. I WAS BORN IN FORT WORTH, TEXAS AND RAISED IN HOUSTON, TEXAS AND WENT TO THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN WHERE I RECEIVED MY UNDER GRADUATE. I AM FROM TEXAS AND MY FAMILY ON BOTH SIDES GO BACK MANY GENERATIONS IN TEXAS.

Jose: THEY PREDATE THE CONQUEST OF TEXAS FROM MEXICO OR THE TEXAS-?

JOHN R LOPEZ: VERY POSSIBLY.

Jose: I READ YOU MAJORED IN POLITICAL SCIENCE AND MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES AND AFTER YOU GRADUATE D FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF AUSTIN YOU WENT TO THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO IN THE SAME I AREA. WHY THE SWITCH FROM THAT TO LAW?

JOHN R LOPEZ: I THINK AS A YOUNG MAN, I IMAGINED I WOULD GO INTO PUBLIC SERVICE AND AM A NOTION I WOULD GO INTO THE FOREIGN SERVICE. I WAS INTERESTED IN MIDDLE EASTERN POLITICS SO IMMEDIATELY UPON MY GRADUATION FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS I ENROLLED IN A PH.D PROGRAM AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO WHICH WAS A NOTORIOUSLY LONG PROGRAM ACADEMICALLY. AFTER TWO YEARS OF THE THREE YEARS OF COURSE WORK PROCEEDING THE DISSERTATION, I HAD A CHANGE OF HEART AND DECIDED THAT WASN'T WHERE I WANTED TO SPEND THE NEXT FIVE OR SIX YEARS. I HAD AN INTEREST IN LAW AND DECIDED TO LEAVE GRADUATE SCHOOL, RELOCATED TO ARIZONA AND THEN ENROLLED IN LAW SCHOOL AT ARIZONA STATE.

Jose: AND YOU GRADUATED 1998 AND CLERKED FOR A JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT SO IN A WAY YOU GONE HOME. YOU STARTED YOUR CAREER AS A COMMERCIAL LITIGATOR, YOU WERE THERE 3 YEARS THEN SWITCHED TO THE U.S. ATTORNEY OFFICE AFTER THREE YEARS. WHY IS THAT?

JOHN R LOPEZ: I HAD ALWAYS HAD A LONGING TO GO INTO THE PUBLIC SERVICE AND HAVING SPENT THREE YEARS AT THE LAW FIRM AND REALLY ENJOYED THE WORK I WAS DOING AND THE PEOPLE I WAS WORKING WITH, I THINK THERE WAS A BIT OF INERTIA IN MY CAREER AND ONE DAY ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 OUR NATION WAS SUBJECTED TO A HISTORIC TERRORIST ATTACK. ON THAT MORNING, I WAS ATTENDING A LITIGATION MEETING AT THE LAW FIRM AND I HAD DECIDED RIGHT THEN AND THERE I WAS FINALLY GOING TO MAKE THE CHANGE IN MY CAREER AND GO INTO THE PUBLIC SERVICE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE ATTACK, WITHIN WEEKS, I STARTED APPLYING TO DIFFERENT GOVERNMENT AGENCIES BECAUSE I HAD MADE THE DECISION TO MAKE A CHANGE. AS FORTUNE HAS IT, I RECEIVED AN OFFER FROM THE U.S. ATTORNEY OFFICE, THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE HERE IN PHOENIX. MY FAMILY WAS HERE, MY WIFE AND DAUGHTER AND IT MADE SENSE TO STAY HERE IN OUR COMMUNITY. BUT FROM THAT POINT FORWARD, I COMMENCED MY CAREER IN PUBLIC SERVICE. A CAREER WHICH I BELIEVED I WOULD ALWAYS PURSUE.

JOSE CARDENAS: IN A REAL TWIST OF FAIT YOU END UPPED BEING IN IRAQ A FEW YEARS LATER. TELL US ABOUT THAT.

JOHN R LOPEZ: INDEED. I ALWAYS CONSIDER THAT A REMARKABLE TWIST OF FAITE. I WAS HARD ON MYSELF WERE A NUMBER OF YEARS ABOUT STARTING A GRADUATE PROGRAM AND NOT COMPLETING IT. I NEVER VIEWED MYSELF AS SOMEONE WHO STARTED SOMETHING AND DIDN'T FINISH IT. BUT THE IRONY WAS WHILE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, I HAD TAKEN A NUMBER OF ADVANCED COURSES IN MIDDLE EASTERN POLITICS AND SPECIALIZED IN IRAQ POLITICS, LEARNED A LOT ABOUT THE PARTY OF SADDAM HUSSEIN AND YEARS LATER WHILE I WAS AT THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE IN THE WAKE OF THE U.S. INVASION OF IRAQ, THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE WAS ASKED TO SET-UP A TASK FORCE TO ASSIST THE IRAQI GOVERNMENT IN PROSECUTING SADDAM HUSSEIN AND HIS TOP REGIME OFFICIALS. SO PERHAPS BECAUSE OF MY SPECIALIZED KNOWLEDGE I WAS IDENTIFIED AS SOMEONE THE DEPARTMENT WAS INTERESTED IN SENDING AS ONE OF THE FOUNDING MEMBERS OF THIS TASK FORCE AND THAT IS HOW I ENDED UP IN IRAQ FROM ARIZONA AS A FEDERAL PROSECUTOR.

Jose: YOU HELD A NUMBER OF HIGH PROFILE POSITIONS WITH WHITE COLLAR CRIME BEING A PARTICULAR AREA. ANY EXPERIENCES YOU CAN SHARE ABOUT BEING AT THE STATE ATTORNEY'S OFFICE BEFORE GOING TO THE ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE?

JOHN R LOPEZ: I ENJOYED MY CAREER AT THE US ATTORNEYS OFFICE. A LOT OF WORK IS DONE THERE ON BEHALF OF ARIZONA AND THE UNITED STATES. THERE WERE A NUMBER OF MEMORABLE CASES. I PROSECUTED IMMIGRATION OFFCIES, AND NARCOTICS, WHITE COLLAR AND PUBLIC CASES. THERE WAS A CASE THAT STOOD OUT AND HAD A VERY REAL IMPACT ON AN ISSUE THAT HAS BEEN AT THE FOREFRONT OF ARIZONA POLITICS INVOLVING THE BORDER. WHEN I WAS A FAIRLY NEW AUSA, I PROSECUTED AN ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT SMUGGLING RING. IT INVOLVED A COYOTE WHO LED GROUP OF IMMIGRANTS ACROSS THE BORDER IN YUMA IN THE SUMMER AND DIDN'T KNOW WHAT HE WAS DOING. HE WAS SIMPLY EXPLOITING THE FOLKS AND TAKING THEIR MONEY. WHEN THEY RAN LOW ON WATER AND BECAME LOST, HE ABANDONED THE GROUP. BORDER PATROL AND LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT EVENTUALLY CAUGHT UP TO HIM BUT IN THE PROCESS OF ABANDONING THIS GROUP OF IMMIGRANTS, TWO CHILDREN NEARLY DIED. ONE OF THEM FLAT LINED ON A BORDER PATROL HELICOPTER AFTER THEY WERE RESCUED. ALTHOUGH IT WAS ONE COYOTE BEING PROSECUTEDM THE LEVEL EXPLOITATION AND THE INSIGHT TO THE HARDSHIPS AND RISKS THAT SO MANY FOLKS FROM MEXICO TAKE TO COME TO THE UNITED STATES LEFT A PROFOUND IMPACT.

Jose: YOU BECOME SOLICITOR GENERAL. THE STATE'S TOP LAWYER IN APPELLATE MATTERS. THEN YOU END UP ON THE ARIZONA SUPREME COURT. WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE YOU WANTED TO BE A JUDGE?

JOHN R LOPEZ: I HAD, THROUGHOUT, PROBABLY THE LATTER HALF OF MY CAREER, I ALWAYS RECOGNIZED THAT BECOMING A JUDGE WOULD BE A LOGICAL CAREER PROGRESSION. BUT IT ALWAYS SEEMED SORT OF A REMOTE ASPIRATION. IT WAS UNTIL VERY RECENTLY, IN FACT UNTIL I WAS A SOLICITOR GENERAL THAT I BELIEVED MY TIME WAS NEARING AND I WAS READY TO TAKE ON THAT IMPORTANT RESPONSIBILITY. I HAD SPEND THE BULK OF MY CAREER, NEARLY 13 YEARS AT THE U.S. ATTORNEY'S DEALING WITH FEDERAL LAW. I FELT IT WAS IMPORTANT TO SERVE SOME PERIOD OF TIME WHERE THE DEALING EXCLUSIVELY WITH STATE LAW AND CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES. AFTER I HAD BEEN IN THE JOB OF SOLICITOR GENERAL, I FELT THAT I HAD BEGUN TO DEVELOP THE EXPERTISE TO ROUND OUT MY KNOWLEDGE. IN ADDITION TO THAT, JUST THE RESPONSIBILITIES IN MY JOB I FELT I WAS READY TO TAKE ON THE IMPORTANT RESPONSIBILITY OF BEING A JUDGE.

Jose: JUSTICE LOPEZ, I KNOW YOU HAVE ONLY BEEN ON THE BENCH FOR ABOUT SEVEN WEEKS SO THERE IS NOT TOO MUCH YOU CAN SAY THERE. WE ARE ALMOST OUT OF TIME. CAN YOU GIVE US A QUICK, OVERALL ASSESSMENT, WHAT IT IS LIKE TO BE A MEMBER OF THE ARIZONA SUPREME COURT AND I AM HOPEFUL WE CAN HAVE YOU BACK ON THE SHOW TO TALK ABOUT THIS IN MORE DEPTH.

JOHN R LOPEZ: I HAD HIGH EXPECTATIONS. I HAD SOME INSIGHT INTO THE WORK OF THE COURT BECAUSE AS YOU ALLUDED TO I DID CLERK FOR AN ARIZONA SUPREME COURT JUSTICE ALTHOUGH IT WAS 18-19 YEARS AGO. IT HAS BEEN A VERY PLEASANT SURPRISE. ALL OF MY COLLEAGUES HAVE BEEN VERY COLEEGIAL. IT REALLY IS A TIGHT KNIT FAMILY EVEN THOUGH WE ALL COME FROM DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS. I THINK WE ALL SERVE THE COMMON PURPOSE OF UPHOLDING THE RULE OF LAW. IT HAS BEEN AN ABSOLUTE PLEASURE. I CAN TELL YOU ONE ASPECT WHICH I HAD BEEN WARNED ABOUT BY FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES WHO ARE AND HAVE BEEN JUDGES IS I SHOULD BE AWARE THERE WAS GOING TO BE ISOLATION AND THAT WOULD PROBABLY CAUSE HARDSHIPS. I CAN SAY AFTER THE FRANTIC PACE OF MY DUTIES AT THE ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE AS SOLICITOR GENERAL THAT AT LEAST FOR THE LAST 7 WEEKS THE ISOLATION HAS BEEN WELCOME.
Jose: THANK YOU FOR JOINING US ON "HORIZONTE" TO TALK ABOUT IT. AS I SAID, WE WOULD LIKE TO HAVE YOU BACK TO DISCUSS THIS IN MORE DETAILS BUT FOR NOW CONGRATULATIONS AND THANK YOU. COMING UP NEXT, FIND OUT WHY A DELEGATION OF SENATORS FROM MEXICO VISITED ARIZONA.