The past four years for the Arizona Superior Court judge who ruled in favor of the retirement home Mirabella at ASU in its lawsuit against Shady Park have been controversial, to say the least.
Weeks after ruling on the Mirabella vs. Shady Park case, the judge stepped down from it to avoid the appearance of bias. In 2021, the judge presided over a custody case involving the children of a former MLB player who were sent to a problematic family reunification camp. And in 2019, a commission overseeing judicial conduct found the judge was four months late in filing a decision for a divorce case — violating state policy.
Now the judge, Brad Astrowsky, is on this year's ballot to keep his position in the court.
Astrowsky was appointed by former Gov. Jan Brewer in 2012. He has overseen civil cases since 2019 but has made rulings in family, criminal and juvenile courts.
Superior Court judges serve four-year terms, and Astrowsky is one of 47 Superior Court judges in Maricopa County up for retention, the judicial version of reelection. In retention elections, judges run unopposed without a party affiliation.
But one recent case Astrowsky ruled on has been the talk of the ASU community for almost two years now.
Mirabella at ASU, a high-rise apartment complex housing retirees near the corner of Mill Avenue and University Drive, opened in December 2020. Its residents filed noise complaints against Shady Park, a key fixture of house music, food and drinks in downtown Tempe, located right across the street from Mirabella. The complex, along with several residents, sued Shady Park last fall and claimed the live music from the venue was negatively impacting the health and welfare of its residents.
Astrowsky's ruling in April put local Tempe music venue Shady Park under a curfew where no outdoor concerts cannot continue after 11 p.m. nor start before 7 p.m. on weekdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays.
"Notably, the evidence showed that Shady Park's noise disturbs not only Mirabella's residents but also many neighboring residents and hotel guests, including current and recently graduated ASU students in their early 20s," Astrowksy wrote in his opinion in favor of Mirabella.
Almost a month after Astrowsky made this ruling, he voluntarily recused himself, court documents say. The recusal, meaning he stepped down from the case, said Astrowksy disqualified himself to "avoid any appearance of a conflict," as his courtroom assistant hired that week was a former employee of Snell and Wilmer, the firm representing Mirabella at ASU.
The case was reassigned to Judge John Hannah on May 9. A little over a week before Astrowsky recused himself, Shady Park's lawyer Scott Zwillinger filed an appeal against Astrowsky's ruling.
According to the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct, judges decide whether or not to recuse themselves from a case with the intention "to protect the rights of litigants and preserve public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary." Judges are prohibited from disqualifying themselves to "avoid cases that present difficult, controversial, or unpopular issues."
The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct wrote that while working on a divorce case, Astrowsky violated policies requiring him to submit a ruling no later than 60 days. Due to not filing the ruling on time and receiving paychecks despite the delay, the Commission stated that Astrowsky failed to perform duties "competently, diligently and promptly" and act "in a matter that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary."
Judge Astrowsky's assistant said he was not available to reply to requests for comment.
The retention process is based on a scoring system run by the Arizona Judicial Performance Review. Scores are calculated by the commission based on voluntary survey responses from attorneys, jurors and others involved in the judicial process.
Doug Cole, a member of the JPR commission, said when voting, commissioners are told courts the judge was assigned to and any complaints filed. Judges are labeled by number to prevent any biased votes, but the judge can choose to reveal their identity if they are contacted.
"Initially it's based solely on that scoring data," Cole said. "... If the commission decided to request for more information from a retention candidate, then the individual commissioners can also consider that information and the response to that from the candidate on how they vote."
This year, 27 commissioners voted Astrowsky met the commission's standards. Between 95 and 98% of attorneys said he met qualifications like integrity, communication, temperament and legal ability. Only 38 of 212 attorneys responded to distributed surveys.
Cole said Arizona's system to select and retain judges is the "gold standard in the country." But Valerie Hoekstra, an associate professor for the School of Politics and Global Studies, said she takes the scores "with a grain of salt" because the sample size is so small.
History of misconduct
According to the complaint, Astrowsky was presiding over a divorce trial that ended on May 17, 2019. He was required to issue a ruling no later than July 18 of that year but did not until Nov. 11.
Astrowsky attributed the delay to issues with clerk calendaring, issues in his personal life, in addition to a heavy caseload that included a criminal case from another county.
"Unfortunately, the close connection between what I was actively experiencing and the cases I handled led to a depression," Astrowsky wrote in response to the Commission. "That, in turn made it difficult for me to muster the energy and motivation to complete certain tasks such as the one involved in this present complaint."
In 2021, Astrowsky presided over a custody case involving the children of former MLB player David Segui.
Astrowsky filed an order to send Segui's sons to a controversial reunification camp called Family Bridges. A news release from the Center of Judicial Excellence, a nonprofit focused on holding family courts accountable, said Segui told the court he tried to "protect the boys from an abusive mother and her boyfriend."
CELEB Magazine reported the order led Segui to lose information regarding the whereabouts and well-being of his children.
The Washington Post reported Family Bridges is run by Randy Rand, an unlicensed psychologist who has been disciplined for unprofessional conduct.
According to Cole, judges who work in a family court are put under harsh scrutiny.
"That's a very difficult rotation to be on because you're dealing with people's children, you're dealing with divorces, they tend to have more complaints," Cole said.
Edited by Piper Hansen, Wyatt Myskow and Kristen Apolline Castillo.
Alexis Waiss is a senior reporter, covering breaking news and long-form stories for a variety of State Press beats. Alexis worked for SP’s politics desk for a year, where she reported on state legislature, Arizona politicians, university policy, student government, the city of Tempe and stories highlighting social justice. She previously worked as a fellow for the Asian American Journalist Association’s Voices program.