[Source: Jim Walsh, Arizona Republic] — Efforts to fight the move of Maricopa County Superior Court’s criminal divisions from Mesa to [downtown] Phoenix appear to have hit a brick wall. Presiding Judge Barbara Rodriguez Mundell rejected Mesa Mayor Scott Smith’s idea of leaving one criminal division in Mesa or to delay her expedited consolidation plan for six months. “It seems like they have made their decision,” Smith said. “They’ll do what they do.”
Smith, longtime Mesa activist Milt Lee, and former County Supervisor Tom Freestone also worry that moving the five criminal divisions to Phoenix might be the first step toward the loss of additional county services in the southeast Valley. When the Southeast Regional Facility was approved by voters in 1986 and opened in 1991, the idea was to create a one-stop shop that would bring county services closer to southeast Valley residents. “I think they have a lot of people watching them to make sure they keep their commitment,” Smith said.
A key setback in efforts to block the move was that voters authorized the criminal-court consolidation in 2002 when they approved the extension of a jail tax that built the Fourth Avenue Jail and other facilities. [Note: Read the full article at 5 court divisions for crime in Mesa appear on way out (to downtown Phoenix)]
[Source: Barbara Rodriguez Mundell, Maricopa County Superior Court presiding judge, Special for the Republic] — In our ongoing effort to improve safety and efficiency, Maricopa County Superior Court is moving five criminal-trial judges from the Southeast Regional Court Center in Mesa to downtown Phoenix. The first of the five criminal-trial judges will move to the downtown court complex in July. Plans are under way to relocate the four remaining Southeast criminal divisions this winter, most likely in December.
Maricopa County’s master space plan includes a goal to centralize criminal trials near the county jail. Voters have twice endorsed downtown criminal-court consolidation in 1998 and again in 2002. One of the authorized uses of the voter-approved jail excise tax, as set out in the Arizona Revised Statutes and the election publicity pamphlets, is “consolidating criminal divisions of the Superior Court in the county to a common location.”
The tough economic times have forced the court to take a hard look at ways to maximize our limited resources to continue to deliver jury trials in a timely manner. Our budget and staff continue to shrink, while caseloads continue to grow. Centralizing criminal trials will make more efficient use of staff to cover court duties without having to pay for outside contractor services.
This move will also benefit victims, police officers, witnesses and jurors. If numerous trials are ready to go on the same day, we will have more backup criminal judges to handle overflow cases on the day scheduled for trial. Witnesses and potential jurors will no longer be inconvenienced by having to wait until another date for trial or make wasted trips to the courthouse. These measures are not only a better way of doing business: They will also save tax dollars. [Note: To read the full op-ed piece, click here.]
[Source: Jim Walsh, Arizona Republic] — Mesa Mayor Scott Smith doesn’t want East Valley residents to get stuck paying for the closing of Maricopa County Superior Court’s criminal divisions through extra travel costs and inconvenience. Smith plans to fight against plans to move the criminal divisions to Phoenix by the end of this year by meeting with Presiding Judge Barbara Rodriguez Mundell and the East Valley’s two representatives on the Board of Supervisors. “I think it would be a huge disservice to the East Valley for these courts to move,” Smith said. “It’s shifting the costs and burden to individual citizens.”
He said the size of Maricopa County alone justifies a full-service courthouse, including criminal courts. “We’re a huge county. The citizens are not served when the services are so far away,” Smith said.
But Mundell’s not budging, saying the move is necessary to improve efficiency and save money on transporting defendants from Phoenix jails to the Mesa courthouse for hearings on felony cases. “I would love to have criminal in all of our facilities,” in Mesa, northeast Phoenix, and Surprise, she said, but county can’t afford it.
The county also is building a controversial $343 million criminal tower in downtown Phoenix that is scheduled to open in 2012. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]