Posted: May 28, 2009, 6:34 PM
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Foster City, CA
Mesa mayor to fight court's move to Phoenix
2 comments by Jim Walsh - May. 28, 2009 10:13 AM
The 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.
Mundell briefed Chandler Police Chief Sherry Kiyler, Gilbert Police Chief Tim Dorn, and Assistant Tempe Police Chief Angel Carbajal on her plans Tuesday during a meeting at the Mesa courthouse. The media was not allowed inside.
The East Valley police chiefs said that moving the courts to Phoenix is inherently inconvenient for officers, forcing them to drive further and taking up more time.
But they also praised Mundell for working with them to limit the disruption. Among the issues under discussion are finding parking spaces for East Valley officers in Phoenix and the possibility of faxing police reports rather than delivering them.
"Are we glad to have our folks have to drive to Phoenix? Of course we're not," Kiyler said, but she also understands the need for budget cuts during the recession.
"We'll make it work, that's what we'll do," she said.
Dorn said he appreciated Mundell coming to Mesa to meet with him and to make the move as painless as possible.
"Obviously, it's going to be somewhat of an inconvenience for us," Dorn said.
Five criminal divisions that handle felony cases would move from Mesa to Phoenix by the end of this year. They would trade courtrooms with family and civil division judges who would move to Mesa.
Built in 1991, the Southeast courthouse was intended as full-service, one-stop shopping for East Valley residents to avoid the long trip to Phoenix.
The facility also includes the second busiest Clerk of Courts office in the Valley, where residents get marriage licenses and passports, a Recorder's Office that offers early voting, and a law library.
The clerk's office will be closed next week for renovations, spokesman Aaron Nash said.
Former Supervisor Tom Freestone said he worked for 2 ½ years to get the Mesa court facility authorized. He said East Valley residents already have paid for the Mesa building and that it should be used for its intended purpose.
"None of this makes sense," Freestone said. "It doesn't measure up to the service that people paid for and deserve," he said. "We're here to serve the people, not make ourselves comfortable."
Roger Howard, of Gilbert, a juror, said his service is much easier in Mesa than Phoenix. The shorter drive and half-day trial schedule allowed Howard to continue working, rather than fighting rush hour traffic getting to Phoenix and back.
"How much inconvenience are they willing to throw on us?" Howard said. "That's a terrible burden to drive from Gilbert to Phoenix for jury duty."
For East Valley crime victims, the move represents more inconvenience, but also new courtrooms in the tower that are being designed as victim-friendly, said Mischa Hepner, an attorney with Arizona Voice for Crime Victims.
"I've had clients who live in the East Valley and they don't want to mess with downtown parking," she said.
But the designs for the new tower include separate rooms where victims can chose to watch trials on closed-circuit television. Victims also can walk to the podium to testify without passing the families of defendants, reducing the possibility of friction.
"It will be much less stressful for them" to attend court hearings at the new tower, Hepner said.
Soooo much whining about parking and driving. Ridiculous. The only valid complaint here is the officers' time. Everyone else can take the train.