I would like to explain the history and the importance of the passage of PROP 103, that appears on the ballot this year.
When this proposition was brought to the floor of the State Senate, it passed without a single “no” vote. In the House of Representatives, it passed with a super majority. Legislators of both parties, from large counties and small counties, agree this change is needed in our Constitution.
The Justice of the Peace Courts or “Peoples’ Courts” and City Magistrates process 94 percent of all cases that go through the courts in our state. These are the courts you can use without hiring an attorney to represent you before the Justice of the Peace. It is very important to have these courts accessible to the citizens within the Justice Court precincts.
The Constitution of the State of Arizona requires the Justice of the Peace to live in the precinct and be elected by the citizens who live in that precinct - and the JP’s do not have to be lawyers. It also says Pro Temporary JP’s will be paid the same amount pro rated as the full time JP.
An elected JP does not take the oath of office and immediately go on the bench to serve. The Constitution has very few requirements, but the Court Administration requires them to attend intensive training and they are assigned mentors to work with them until they are prepared to take the bench.
The question came up a couple of years ago about the qualifications required for Pro Tem Justices of the JP Courts. Pro Tems are brought into the courts on a temporary basis to do the work of the judge when the judge is unable to be in court for reasons that can vary from illness, to attendance at training sessions, or vacations, etc.
Contrary to long standing precedent the Chief Justice recently issued an administrative order declaring that all Pro Tems must be attorneys. Some of the Superior Court judges agreed and some did not, as it was not clear to everyone as to the intent of the language in the Constitution. (To my knowledge, none of the Justices of the Peace agreed with the order).
The JP Courts can no longer use a non-lawyer retired JP for temporary help. Maricopa County and Pima County have a large pool of attorneys to ask to do the work in the courts. The problem is that most private attorneys have a schedule of their own to keep and it is difficult to find attorneys who can drop everything in their own office to go serve on a part time basis as a Pro Tem.
In the rural counties, we have an even greater problem. In some smaller counties, there is no attorney available to be a Pro Tem in the precinct. The rural counties were required to bring in an attorney from the large counties and pay extra for housing and travel to find the Pro Tems needed, placing an additional burden on the taxpayers of the small counties.
The trained, retired JP’s who were capable of substituting for a judge are not allowed to serve on a temporary basis because they are not attorneys. Retired JP’s who live in an adjoining precinct cannot be used either.
Maricopa County was having a terrible time finding Pro Tems on short notice, so they hired two full time Commissioners (at full time pay of a Commissioner) to do the temporary work in the JP courts, so the county would have Pro Tems who were attorneys available to serve in our 24 Maricopa Courts when they were needed. This means that the Pro Tems we now have in Maricopa County on full time basis are paid $415 per day whether they work or not.
I have worked with the Administration of the Courts to resolve these problems and all parties have agreed that we need to change the language of the Constitution to allow the use of retired trained non-lawyer JP’s to be used in the courts as needed.
This is a “common sense” proposition that allows the courts to call on people who have served and are already trained as judges in the JP Courts to be called to serve on the bench on a temporary basis and to make it clear that Pro Tems will not have to live in the precinct where they serve.
Vote YES on 103.
It saves taxpayer dollars and allows the use of trained people to serve as Pro Tems in our JP Courts where and when they are needed.