Lawyers discuss court-induced poverty at ASU

Maricopa County Justice Court Administrator Jeff Fine speaks at the Beus Center for Law and Society on Monday. (Craig Johnson/DD)

A report given to the Arizona Judicial Council in October on how to prevent the cycle of poverty that can be caused by the court system was presented to a group of lawyers at the Beus Center for Law and Society Wednesday.

The task force established by Chief Justice of Arizona Supreme Court Scott Bales provided an educational opportunity for lawyers and other court personnel, including around 57 Maricopa county lawyers, according to Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law Continuing Legal Education Director Christopher Marohn. The lawyers received CLE credit for their attendance at this event.

This presentation of the report was originally in response to the findings of the Department of Justice about the court system in Ferguson, Missouri, earlier this year.

“We’re not bad in Arizona; we never have been,” Justice Don Taylor of the Phoenix Municipal Court said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have things to improve.”

A Phoenix legal consultant, Tony Breecher, did not come for credit. He simply was interested in the topic.

“Arizona’s legal system doesn’t always have the best reputation,” he said. “This is an example of progress….it seeks to correct flaws in what some people say is a flawed system.”

As Bales introduced the topic, he mentioned that it might take time before any of the people in the judicial system see these changes in place.

“Steering the judiciary is like steering a great big boat; you make big turns,” Bales said.

Bales said there were 68 recommendations for the Arizona judicial system and that some would become legislation, while others would show up in the curriculum of judges.

The propositions, explained by Paul Julien, the judicial education officer for the state of Arizona, and Taylor caused audience members to ask questions of concern about the tactics proposed. However, after Maricopa County Justice Court Administrator Jeff Fine energetically explained the reasons for the proposed changes in layman’s terms, many began to understand.

MaryEllen Sheppard, the assistant county manager, discussed recidivism with the crowd of court personnel and students. She mentioned a study that was done nationwide in 2012 and then localized it with a study done this year in Arizona.

The facts from the study showed that someone at low risk of committing crime after spending 4-7 days detained is 49 percent more likely than someone detained 1-3 days to return to prison within the next year.

Sheppard insisted that in the judicial system we need to look at things differently.

“How many of us try to apply the solutions we learned decades ago to today’s problems?” Sheppard asked.

Fine and Sheppard discussed a new system of video conference hearing. They alluded to the fact that this process would be used to expedite the process so people do not spend so much time in jail.

The purpose of the new idea is to prevent people from having to miss work or take on any other financial burdens.

The committee also suggested ways to give people notifications for when and where to avoid missing their court appearance, similar to email reminders of an upcoming event on or appointment on your personal calendar.

“You can do just about anything with this thing,” Fine said while holding up his phone. “You just can’t interface with the government.”

Fine estimated that it costs $800 dollars to put out an arrest warrant for someone who missed their court appearance. He also said that the $800 primarily is paid for by taxpayers.

Fine continued to discuss why the system of jailing people due to lack of payment needs to be reformed.

Bales and other court personnel on the committee told stories of people being in jail simply because they did not have money to pay the fine or bail that was set. This then led to them spending more time in a detention center and a subsequent return soon after release.

To read more about the report and recommendation by the task force on Fair Justice For All go to: http://www.azcourts.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=bmEC0PU-FD8%3d&portalid=74

Contact the reporter at chelsea.shannon@asu.edu.