Capitol Media Services
Coconino County Superior Court Judge J. Michael Flournoy is
trying to retire early even as he seeks to retain his seat on
Flournoy filed a request for disability retirement on May
20. That is two days after the Commission on Judicial Conduct
recommended that the judge be suspended, without pay, for 18
That same recommendation, if accepted by the Arizona
Supreme Court, does not guarantee Flournoy ever will be able
to sit as a judge again. The commission states the judge must
first show he has successfully completed both a "substantial
counseling program" and another program on "judicial conduct
The Elected Officials Retirement Plan furnished the judge's
request to Capitol Media Services under the state's Public
Records Law -- but not before blacking out some information
considered personal, including the nature and cause of the
But Flournoy reportedly has told friends he is losing his
vision, and that possible diagnosis is backed by the fact that
the two doctors Flournoy lists on his retirement request both
Flournoy twice declined to discuss the request, including
why he sought early retirement only in May although he states
on the application his disability was diagnosed three years
Technically, the judge's request has no bearing on his
fight to keep from being suspended officially by the state
Supreme Court. Under state law, he has been automatically
suspended since May based on the commission's recommendation,
but that action has yet to be ratified by the high court.
Flagstaff attorney Bob Van Wyck has been appointed as a judge
pro tem to handle Flournoy's caseload in the interim.
But the disability request definitely would affect how much
he receives in retirement benefits if he decides to
permanently leave the bench.
Elected officials accumulate pensions at the rate of 4
percent a year, up to a maximum of 80 percent of the average
of what they were making for the highest three years.
Flournoy, who took the bench in January 1992 would qualify for
28 percent of about $113,000.
But the law also specifies that retirement before age 65
carries a penalty. Flournoy, at age 62, would lose 9 percent,
bringing his pension down to 21 percent, or about $24,000
By contrast, if Flournoy is granted disability retirement
the penalty does not apply. Potentially more significant, he
is presumed to have served for 10 years, pushing his pension
up to more than $45,000.
Both figures would change if Flournoy exercises an option
to "buy back" eight years of government service he had when he
was Coconino County Attorney.
Michael Ong, deputy director of the retirement plan, said
the decision of whether to grant Flournoy's request will be
based on examinations by three doctors and their conclusion of
whether his medical condition leaves him unable to perform his
duties as a judge.
If the request is granted, that doesn't necessarily end
Flournoy's ability to work. Ong said it is conceivable that he
could still work as an attorney even if the doctors say he can
no longer sit on the bench for medical reasons.
Last week the judge's attorney told the justices of the
Arizona Supreme Court they should ignore the commission's
recommendations. He defended Flournoy against all the charges.
The justices have not said when they will issue a ruling.