Arizona Courts Awards

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Each year, the Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice gives awards to individuals, teams, or projects that support the five main goals outlined in the Strategic Agenda for Arizona’s Courts. Chief Justice Scott Bales will tell us about the winners of the awards.

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," we'll learn about the Arizona court awards and how they honor efforts to support the state's court system. Also tonight, a pragmatic approach to the problem of extinction. And the impact of baby-Boomers on volunteerism and charity donations. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The state board of education is set to hire a new executive director. It's a move that could mean yet another lawsuit filed by state superintendent of public instruction, Diane Douglas, who recommended a candidate to fill the position only to have that candidate passed over by the board. Douglas promised in a letter to the board that if the hiring occurs without her recommendation, she will, quote, be forced to defend the power of my office and bring another lawsuit. Each year the Arizona Supreme Court chief justice presents awards to individuals, teams, or projects that support the main goals in the strategic agenda for Arizona's courts. Here now to tell us more is the chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, Scott Bales. Good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.

SCOTT BALES: Thank you for inviting me to come.

TED SIMONS: Arizona court awards. What are we talking about?

SCOTT BALES: Well, our strategic agenda which has a five-year time horizon, identifies five goals. And every year we recognize groups around the state that have made extraordinary accomplishments towards one of those goals, end up -- ends up being five different awards.

TED SIMONS: I read advancing justice together through the courts and communities. Pretty much the bottom line here.

SCOTT BALES: That's the overall theme of the strategic agenda. More specific goals, protecting children, families, communities, improving court processes.

TED SIMONS: Goal number one, promoting access to justice. It --

SCOTT BALES: For Yuma county, we recognized their efforts to establish a mental health court. Mental health court is a kind of specialty court. We have other specialty courts, veterans courts and drug courts. And they recognize that for certain people who are caught up in the court system it is important that we combine not only the resolution of their case, but possibly recognizing the cause of whatever brought them to court and providing services and treatment and they've done that very successfully in Yuma in the mental health court. For those who have been involved. And these are people charged with low-level criminal offenses for the most part. For those who have participated, they have been able to eliminate homelessness for those individuals and they have been able to find placements in terms of jobs or training programs for all of them.

TED SIMONS: Interesting. Goal number two is protecting children, families, communities, with a pre-trial service here. Talk to us about this. I believe Kathy waters was --

SCOTT BALES: Yes, that award was given to Kathy Waters, director of adult probation for the entire state. And the award actually relates to efforts to improve our pre-trial decisions about whether a person is charged with crimes should be released or should be held until their charges are finally resolved. And it's very important because these are people who are presumed to be innocent. And we don't want to hold them unnecessarily. It is also very expensive to keep people in jail. But at the same time, want to make sure that we have identified those who either pose a risk to the community if they are released or a risk of flight if they're let out of jail.

TED SIMONS: And was this because of extra effort, a changed effort?

SCOTT BALES: Well, what we have done we have adopted a uniform assessment tool, essentially a questionnaire that courts can use around the state, and it is both more accurate and it helps protect against possible implicit biases that judges might make in these release decisions.

TED SIMONS: Goal number three is improving court processes to better serve the public and it sounds like a software got honored this time.

SCOTT BALES: Well, this is a software program that was adopted in Pima county by their office of the court interpreter. We have a real challenge in the courts around the state because people who don't speak English are entitled under federal law to have interpretive services if they're involved in court proceedings. In Pima county, for example, they had to translate more than 81 languages over the last several years. What the software does is helps them coordinate who is available to provide interpreting services, where they're needed, when, basically trying to maximize the resources that we have in order to better serve this group of people in our courts.

TED SIMONS: More of a data base processing kind of a thing.

SCOTT BALES: Case management tool.

TED SIMONS: There we go. I thought for a second you had software that was translating what was being said. Haven't quite reached that --

SCOTT BALES: Haven't reached that yet. That is on the horizon, I think.

TED SIMONS: Number four, goal number four, enhancing professionalism within Arizona's courts. Winner?

SCOTT BALES: The winner there is actually the justice courts in Maricopa county for a program they developed to identify best practices for dealing with self-represented litigants, people who don't have lawyers but in the courts. Justice courts see a lot of that in eviction cases and in small claims cases, and the award, which went to judge Steven McMurray on -- the chief education officer, and also judge Gerald Williams set out guidelines for the judges to use to how they can better help people who are representing themselves just navigate the court process.

TED SIMONS: Are you seeing more -- a little off topic, are you seeing more people self-representing?

SCOTT BALES: We are, and in particular in certain kinds of cases like in family court, the cases that involve divorces and child custody. The vast majority of those cases, 85% have at least one side that is self-represented.

TED SIMONS: That's definitely a need that has been or is needs to be met. Finally, goal number five, improving communications and community participation. It sounds like there is a baby care project in Pinal County. Talk to us about this.

SCOTT BALES: Yeah, this was a wonderful project developed by a community advisory board connected with the juvenile court in Pinal county. And what they did is they recognize that there are about 1,000 young children in foster care in that county, and there is a need with respect to those who are infants to provide certain resources, things like diapers, clothing, formula, to the foster family. So as a volunteer effort, they put together these baby bags and it got very wide support in the community. The Department of Corrections inmate programs donated $3,000. They -- a number of sewing and knitting groups put together hats and blankets and a charter elementary school contributed 800 stuffed animals. And it's inspiring and it also reflects that in our courts, we're very dependent in different ways on community support and community volunteers and that's especially true in the cases that involve children because we have court-appointed special advocates. We have foster care review boards. We have groups like this advisory board and I think it is important that we recognize those kinds of efforts.

TED SIMONS: Obviously all five of these goals met and recognized and honored. Do -- does the court system -- can it be overlooked? How important are these kinds of awards?

SCOTT BALES: Well, I think they're vitally important. I should say, I get to present the awards. I don't determine who receives them. That is done by a committee of judges from around the state and a couple of public members, and it's important that we learn from efforts in different parts of the state and everyone of these awardees I think has done something that other courts could perhaps learn from and in some ways duplicate. And that we recognize initiative and as I said that we appreciate the volunteers who support our court system.

TED SIMONS: Inspirational I'm sure to all in the court system. Thank you so much for joining us.

SCOTT BALES: Thanks again. Great to be here.

Scott Bales:Chief Justice

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