WHAT’S NEW IN THE LOCAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE WORLD?
Judges, lots of brand new judges in Pima County Justice Court and Pima County Superior Court. When you are charged with a crime, either felony or misdemeanor, it is important to make sure some thought goes into having the right judge for your case. This does not mean that there are “good” judges and “bad” judges. It means that every case has different facts and an
experienced attorney, one that frequently appears in front of a particular judge, can tell if the judge will rule in a predictably particular manner that may be helpful or not.
Who are the new judges? Judges Paula Abound, Charlene Pesquiera, Erica Cornejo, and Vincent Roberts are all new to the justice court bench. Judges Abound and Pesquiera are not lawyers. Each has experience in the state legislature. Judge Roberts is not a lawyer either. He was a law enforcement officer and constable. Erica Cornejo is a lawyer. She worked as a prosecutor and private sole practice attorney.
Does it matter if the judge is a lawyer or not? Possibly. Like all things in the law, it just depends on the facts of your case. If you have a complex technical pretrial motion to suppress evidence in your driving under the influence case, then you may want to have a lawyer decide. On the other hand, the non-lawyer judge assigned to your case may have vast experience dealing with technical driving under the influence motions. It just depends. All judges, lawyer or not, can change and evolve over time as well. Again, it is important to discuss your particular facts with a lawyer who practices in justice court
Did you know you can change your judge? You can, but you better decide quickly after your arraignment to do so because you only get 10 days to file a motion asking that the judge be changed. You don’t even have to provide a reason to want the change.
In making the decision, you should also be aware of specialty courts. In Pima County Justice Court and Tucson City Court, there are designated specialty courts for particular areas of the law and particular crimes. For example, Justice Court has Veteran’s Courts, Animal Welfare Court, Domestic Violence Court and Behavioral Health Court. The prosecutor generally places the cases in the specialty court, however, a person can request to be in the specialty court.
Veteran’s Court in Pima County Justice Court is run by Judge Maria Felix. This is not a diversionary court. People in Veteran’s Court in this jurisdiction are not automatically offered diversion ( counseling in exchange for a dismissal of the charges.) It is possible to receive a diversion plea offer in this court, but it is not automatic. Judge Felix also presides over Animal Welfare Court. This speciality court hears cases where animals are the abused or neglected. The prosecutors have special plea policies for this court. Behavioral Health Court is run by Judge Susan Bacal. Generally, people with behavioral health issues are in this court. Most participants are members of local agencies like COPE, CODAC, or La Frontera, but such membership is not required in order to have your case in behavioral health court. Finally, there is domestic violence court run by judge Adam Watters. The prosecutors have fairly tough policies about who will stay in domestic violence specialty court and who will go to another non-specialty judge. Those in the domestic violence specialty court will generally receive plea according to a specified plea policy of the county attorney’s (prosecutor’s) office. The pleas generally include supervised probation and suspended jail and fines. Any plea offer can be countered and any case can go to trial. Which path is better for you and your case? It is best to talk about your case specifics with an experienced criminal defense attorney.