By Joe Pyritz
After a couple of public hearings and much discussion, the Board of Supervisors has voted to reduce Pinal County’s Justice of the Peace Districts for 2018 election.
The reduction comes after a study found that the Apache Junction Justice Court is nearing critical capacity when it comes to caseload. Each charge in a case before the court is given a specific number of “Productivity Credits” per the amount of time and effort it takes to handle through the system. The maximum amount of credits per Justice Court is 1,200. In 2014-2015, the Apache Junction Justice Court earned 1,180.29 credits, less than 20 away from the maximum.
In addressing the Board, County Manager Greg Stanley cited Arizona State Revised Statute 22-125 that states: “The judicial productivity credits for any justice court precinct shall not exceed twelve hundred credits. If the total judicial productivity credits of a justice court precinct exceed twelve hundred credits, the county board of supervisors shall create sufficient courts, or redraw the justice court precinct boundaries according to section 22-101, in order to reduce the judicial productivity credits for any precinct which exceeds that limit.”
Productivity Credits per Justice Court 2014-2015:
Apache Junction JC, 1,180.29
Casa Grande JC, 678.20
Eloy JC 330.79
Maricopa/Stanfield JC, 300.08
Florence/Coolidge JC, 203.98
Oracle JC, 123.73
Superior/Kearny JC, 100.19
Mammoth/San Manuel JC, 43.28
“As you recall,” Stanley said, “1,200 credits is when the board has to either redraw boundaries or add another J.P.”
The County Manager also addressed workload when it comes to clerks in each of the precincts. By general guideline, the clerks should not have more than 1,000 cases to oversee. The Apache Junction Justice Court’s clerks case numbers were over the recommended 1,000.
Clerk’s Workload per Justice Court Three Year Average:
Apache Junction JC, 1,489
Casa Grande JC, 990
Eloy JC, 813
Maricopa/Stanfield JC, 806
Florence/Coolidge JC, 674
Oracle JC, 542
Superior/Kearny JC, 384
Mammoth/San Manuel JC, 254
While addressing the board, the County Manager showed different solutions available to the Supervisors to rectify this problem. During a work session on this topic in April, Stanley presented a map, drawn by Vice-Chairman Pete Rios, with a set of boundaries that showed the Apache Junction Justice Court split from the San Tan Valley area while eliminating two precincts in eastern Pinal County in order to save money.
The map Stanley presented, 4.5 shows Saddlebrooke placed in with the Eloy Justice Precinct while Oracle, Mammoth, Kearny/Superior’s Justice Precincts being combined and a roving judge to hear cases in two different areas.
In April’s work session hearing, a group of Saddlebrooke residents put together a plan for the precinct re-alignment. County Manager Stanley said those plans were unworkable for various reasons.
Vice-Chairman Rios worked out an alternative map that would place Saddlebrooke in with the eastern part of the county. The map’s designation was 4.7.
“What we are concerned with here today is accessibility to justice,” the Vice-Chairman said. “That’s what I was looking at in drafting maps 4.5 and 4.7. Why did I draw those maps? Because the courts map, 4.4, I really disliked because that map put Mammoth, San Manuel and Oracle with Saddlebrooke, and that was the kiss of death for any candidate running from those areas. That map also put Kearny, Superior and Queen Valley in with Apache Junction & Gold Canyon, which was the kiss of death for any candidate running from those rural areas as well. I’ve been taught for a long time, and I have been doing redistricting and reapportionment now since the eighties, that you want to give people an opportunity to vote for a candidate of their choice (regardless of race or ethnicity). Not only is that my phrase, it is also a phrase in the 1965 Voting Rights Act.”
In Rios’ plan, the Oracle Justice of the Peace court would stay open along with the Kearny or Superior Justice of Peace Court with a judge alternating between the two courts. The same plan would be in place for the combined Eloy, Coolidge and Florence Justice of the Peace Courts, with both Eloy & Florence JP Courts remaining open.
After public testimony and an hour of discussion the Board voted 3-2 to adopt Rios’ map 4.7 in the Justice Court realignment to be effective January 1, 2019, which means candidates in 2018 would run under the new adopted district boundaries.