Reports of Justice Court corruption resulted in reforms

Pat Flannery The Arizona Republic Mar. 13, 2006 12:00 AM

Justice Court reform started in the early 1990s when the hiring and firing of clerical staff was taken away from justices of the peace and given to Superior Court administrators. Reforms intensified in 2002 after years of corruption and management scandals.

Reviews by the Arizona Supreme Court found that the public was poorly served in many instances as cases languished for months, hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines went uncollected and legal guidelines for managing cases were ignored.

Justices or their employees were found in a handful of cases to have fixed tickets, harassed or misused employees, tampered with court records, circulated obscene materials or engaged in other odd behavior.

For example:

A Phoenix justice of the peace resigned under fire in 2003 as the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct looked into complaints that she did not follow court procedure, gave bad advice to those coming before her and took inappropriate actions like asking people for urine samples if she thought they were on drugs.

Another Phoenix justice of the peace was removed from the bench in 2000 amid allegations that he fell asleep on the bench, made sexual comments to staff, kept whiskey in his chambers and circulated obscene materials.

In 2001, a Scottsdale judge quit after the Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended his firing for dangling handcuffs in front of litigants and asking spectators for a show of hands on his rulings.

A Maryvale judge took his dogs to work where, court administrators said, "he allowed them to urinate and defecate in court."

Then-state Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Jones appointed a panel four years ago to oversee numerous changes, entrusting Judge Colin Campbell, then the presiding judge in Maricopa County Superior Court, to carry them out.

Jones wrote then that "three judges have been removed from office for misconduct, three courts have been placed under the administrative control of the Superior Court presiding judge, two clerks from two courts have been charged or sentenced for theft of funds and an investigation is under way regarding possible theft of funds in a third court."

He blamed the problems on "decentralization of authority."

That put changes in motion to consolidate authority in the hands of Superior Court administrators and the presiding Superior Court judge. The court since has tried to consolidate justice courts into common facilities with shared staff, further centralizing administration. Financial and administrative decisions are made within the Superior Court's chain of command.

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