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North Valley Justice of the Peace discusses court’s role in local issues

8/24/16

Elizabeth Medora
Staff

NORTH VALLEY – North Valley Justice of the Peace Judge Gerald Williams shared information about how the Maricopa County Justice Courts work at an Aug. 12 Representative Town Hall meeting hosted by the New River/Desert Hills Community Association. At the meeting, Judge Williams described his typical court week and how legal decisions affect the community.

Williams’ court is the North Valley Justice Court in Surprise; this court covers a large area, including Anthem, Desert Hills, and north Phoenix. The court is topic-based, with certain days being allocated for particular cases to ensure availability of needed court members, such as a prosecutor and a public defender. During the week, Williams handles suits of $10,000 or less, collections, evictions, civil cases, short criminal trials, and jury trials.

Judge Williams discussed a new video arraignment system, which he described as an “initiative I’m kind of excited about,” as it helps the courts work more efficiently for everyone.

Describing the video system, Williams noted that he used to do video arraignments in jail on Thursdays, which worked to some extent, but didn’t work well for those were arrested on a Friday, who would end up waiting until the following Thursday for their video arraignment, unless they could pay bond money. Now, through the new system, on weekdays, a Justice of the Peace will be notified as soon as they’re needed for a video arraignment and can get cases taken care of that day.

The people involved in these cases are not being charged with violent crimes; rather, for offenses like driving on a suspended license, failing to appear in court, or failing to pay fines. Many people just don’t have the funds for even small bonds.

“For some people, putting a $200 bond on them is the same as putting a $2,000 bond on them,” Williams said, saying there is a “push nationwide not to have people in jail essentially because they’re poor.”

For defendants who are in jail because they failed to pay a fine, waiting for arraignment because they can’t afford a bond is counterproductive, causing further lost income.

“They’re in jail for a week – they lose their job, they still can’t pay the fine,” Williams said, describing the downward spiral of defendants as they get deeper and deeper in debt.

The system saves money for the state, as well. Felony offenders who are already in jail can use the system to take care of more minor offenses for which they’ve been charged. Transporting these prisoners used to take time and money; the video arraignment system is cheaper and safer.

Williams called this new system a “win-win for everyone.”

Williams discussed issues common to the north valley community at the Town Hall meeting.

Parking tickets can be a common problem in Anthem, especially when the high school is in session; students sometimes park in no parking areas and get ticketed. Parking tickets can become a serious issue if someone removes the ticket from the windshield, leaving the driver of the car unaware that they received it. Since the driver is unaware of the ticket, they don’t pay it, which can lead to the driver and/or owner of the car ending up in court with a suspended license over the ticket.

Meeting attendees asked questions of Judge Williams regarding local cases, including curfew issues. Since breaking curfew is a petty offense but can often be combined with serious offenses like underage drinking, minors caught breaking curfew can end up in court. Instead of having a conviction on the minor’s record, Williams said he aims to divert it to community service, such as at a food bank, charity, or pet rescue.

Learn more about the workings of the justice court system at http://justicecourts.maricopa.gov. Judge Williams also writes a monthly column in The Foothills Focus, offering detailed, timely information on court-related items of local interest.