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Posted on: July 27, 2017

Paradise Valley Municipal Court Response to Goldwater Institute Policy Paper on City Courts

The Paradise Valley Municipal Court has always been firmly committed to the prompt, fair and impartial administration of justice.

 The Court is one of eighty-two municipal Courts in Arizona and is the sixth largest municipal Court in state in terms of case volume. The Town would like to clarify misstatements or misunderstandings in the Goldwater Institute Report.

The report calls the Court a “lucrative Court,” however the cost vs. revenue comparison in the report does not consider the cost of the officers and technology that enforce the law, as well as the Court.  Fiscal year expenditures for the Court and Police Department are projected to be over $10 million, as public safety is the primary service provided by the Town of Paradise Valley. Furthermore, in the Town’s quarterly revenue report for 3rd quarter fiscal year 2017, the projection for fines and forfeiture revenue was reduced from the initial budget number of $3.4 million to $2.3 million, which was not mentioned in the report.  Despite this revenue reduction, neither the Municipal Court nor the Police Department had to reduce expenditures because the two are not tied. Justice is not an enterprise fund. The Court expenditures are low in comparison to Court revenue due to the Court’s unique volunteer judicial bench and the use of state of the art technology to allow case disposition with a reduced clerical staff. 

Paradise Valley is a town with a long history of residents who volunteer their time to various Town responsibilities. It is an integral part of the community culture.  We have eight judges who volunteer their time, at no cost to the Town, which speaks directly to the issue of the bench being pressured to raise revenue.  The judges who serve the Town are primarily lawyers from within the Town with judicial training and a respect for the Constitutional mandate that Courts are an independent branch of our system of government. Their courtroom decisions are not influenced by any outside forces.

The Court, not the Town Council sets the fine/fee schedule, and last year the Court, through the judges’ discretion reduced many of the fines/fees. Moreover, the Town Council, in its biennial performance review of the judges, relies heavily on the analysis of the Presiding Magistrate and feedback from individuals who have appeared in the Court.  It does not consider fine revenue generated as a performance metric.

Much of the public may not know that many of the fines, penalties and surcharges that are ordered are mandatory by state law.  Chief Justice Bales of our State Supreme Court has instituted the Arizona Commission on Access to Justice Program that has recently resulted in granting municipal Courts more freedom in deciding what sanctions should be imposed.  

The Court operates with minimal clerical staff. Courts comparable to Paradise Valley Municipal Court have at least twice as many employees. Through innovative staffing decisions, our Court has significantly decreased expenditures.  The Paradise Valley Municipal Court is proud of our volunteer judicial bench, work flow efficiencies, and the use of technology to keep costs down.

Towns and cities have the authority to establish and assess recovery fees.  The Town established a photo enforcement technology recovery fee on all charges involving the use of photo enforcement. The photo enforcement program has been a huge deterrent to speeding, other traffic offenses, and vehicular fatalities in the Town. The additional one-third fee referenced in the report is based on this recovery fee.

The Paradise Valley Municipal Court’s fine/fee schedule is within the range of other municipalities around the state, and is approved by Arizona Superior Court.  Paradise Valley Municipal Court offers payment plans, community service and other programs to individuals. The Court proudly participates in the East Valley Regional Veterans’ Court, the City of Tempe’s Mental Health Court, and the Maricopa County Homeless Court all of which provide disenfranchised individuals an opportunity to satisfy their obligations to the Court by a number of non-monetary activities.

The Court is proud of their efforts to keep costs down and utilize the Trial Court Performance measures designed by National Center for State Courts to evaluate Court operations. The Court performance measures provide tools to demonstrate effective stewardship of public resources. The Municipal Court for the Town of Paradise Valley has always been at the forefront of innovative Court technologies.  The Court reports on these accomplishments not to “tout” their performance, of which we are justifiably proud, but to provide transparency to the Court’s operation.

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