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Justice Court

Photo by Kyle Norby

The courthouse in Maricopa is off the beaten path.

The average citizen may not realize the city has both a municipal and a criminal justice court in the community, yet the court performs needed duties each day. Sitting on the bench of both courts is the Honorable Lyle D. Riggs.

Riggs could be called the most polite judge in the West. He goes out of his way to make sure those accused of a crime understand what they’re facing, how to navigate the system and to always show up to court when required.

Unlike Pinal County Superior Court, there is no docket available when you come to municipal court.

Mondays, the court tackles arraignments, with the criminal cases being heard by the judge and clerks handling most of the traffic offenses.

Tuesdays begin with pre-trial hearings in municipal court, which also gives defendants the opportunity to talk with a prosecutor and maybe work out an agreement early in the process.

Wednesdays, pretrial conferences for the justice court take place. There are typically 50 or more municipal pretrial hearings and 25 to 30 justice court pre-trials each week at the Maricopa courthouse.

Arraignments also take place on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.

Thursdays are set aside for contested hearings, small claims and eviction hearings. Riggs said there are six to eight evictions a week in Maricopa. Jury and bench trials take place Thursday afternoons and Fridays when needed.

Friday is one of the most interesting days in the Maricopa courtroom as open court takes place from 8 to 10 a.m. Open court is a time when defendants who are a little off track talk to Judge Riggs and fix what they have done wrong.

Maybe they missed a payment on a settlement agreement. Maybe they missed a court date and have a warrant issued for their arrest. Riggs sets aside Friday mornings in his calendar to give people a chance to make right. He said 30 to 40 people usually come through court on Friday mornings, and anything can happen.

Judge Lyle Riggs is both city magistrate and county justice of the peace. Photo by Jim Headley

Open Court May 3, 2019

(Only first names of the defendants used for privacy.)

8 a.m. – The doors to the Western Pinal Justice Court open. There are about 20 people waiting in line. Everyone entering the building goes through a security checkpoint and metal detector run by the security guard, Lorenzo Villa. People have until 10 a.m. to check in for open court.

8:12 a.m. – Open court starts as Judge Lyle Riggs enters the courtroom.

8:14 a.m. – Riggs explains to attendees how court works and calls the first case of the day. Brian is selected as the first “contestant.” “It’s kind of like a game show,” Riggs jokes. Brian has a traffic ticket for failure to stop, but he failed to appear for a court date in March, and his driving privileges were suspended. He owes $288 in fines and must complete traffic survival school. He asked the court for a payment plan, as he’s starting a new job on Monday and needs his driver’s license reinstated. He promises to make a payment today and get his license restarted. Riggs orders him to pay $80 today and $80 a month starting June 1.

8:20 a.m. – Johnathan missed his deadline to complete court-ordered community service. The agreement is between him and the prosecutor and not the court, so Riggs tells him to talk to the prosecutor. He must be back in court at a later date.

8:21 a.m. – Lane was to be in court April 30 for an arraignment, and he missed it. He tells Riggs he was in police custody at that time. He is rescheduled to appear in court June 11.

8:23 a.m. – Damian also was supposed to be in court April 30 and failed to appear. She apologizes and says she failed to plan for the appearance. Riggs lets her reschedule to appear on June 11. “I’ll accept this excuse one time,” Riggs says.

8:26 a.m. – Shannon is called next with two cases pending. She says she tried to pay on her fine and was told the payment plan was terminated. She says she could pay $150 today and pay off one of the fines by June 1 at a balance of $82. Then she will pay $50 a month on the other fine. “I want something that works,” Riggs says.

8:33 a.m. – Diego was to be in court April 22 and failed to appear. He says he was out of town, but he wants to go to driving school to clear up his tickets. “It’s a good thing you came in today; you were about to get suspended,” Riggs tells him. He has until June 10 to complete driving school.

8:35 a.m. – Ruben was facing a traffic complaint and failed to appear in court on March 25. He owes fines of $668 and currently has suspended driving privileges. He decides to file a written motion for forgiveness on missing his court date and will remain suspended until the issue is resolved. Riggs gives him instructions on how to file the motion.

8:40 a.m. – Maria was wanted on a warrant because she wasn’t making payments to the court. Her last payment was in August until today. She is ordered pay the fine in full, and Riggs cancels the warrant. She also must go through substance abuse counseling by Aug. 2, and she remains on probation. She owes $571 in fines and promised to pay $50 a month.

8:45 a.m. – Christine says she got a letter in the mail that she hasn’t been paying her fines and she wants to reinstate her payments to the court. She also asks for her driving privileges to be reinstated. She promises to pay $100 today and $67 by June 1. Then she is ordered to pay $50 a month. She owes more than $1,000.

8:52 a.m. – Rhonda was last in court in July 2017. Riggs says the court has only received one payment from her and a warrant was issued. Her last payment was in February. She promises to pay $50 today and $50 a month starting June 1. Riggs cancels the warrant.

8:56 a.m. – Steven said he was ordered to do a day in jail and wants to reschedule the date. “This happens. We will get this rescheduled,” Riggs says. Steven will go to jail on May 17.

8:59 a.m. – Robert is called next. Riggs asks him to take his hat off as he approaches the bench, and he is sworn in. He is requesting an order of protection against harassment, but the court has to first prove there is a series of harassment. He keeps getting harassing calls and texts from a man as well as harassing posts on his business website, he says. The protection order is granted.

9:07 a.m. – Nicole requests a protection order. A woman threatened to beat her up in one text and said she wouldn’t stop until she does in a second text. The protection order is granted.

9:13 a.m. – Juan says he was about to have a warrant issued because he hasn’t been making payments. Riggs stops the warrant before it is issued. He tells Riggs he wants to establish a payment plan and get his license reinstated. Riggs orders him to pay $273 today and $200 a month starting June 1 on a balance of $1,000.

9:18 a.m. – Diane was wanted on a warrant as she failed to appear in court for a July 2017 arraignment. She lives in California and will be arraigned later in the day.

9:19 a.m. – Alexander failed to appear in court on Monday. “I forgot,” he says. “Well, that’s an honest answer,” Riggs replies. His court date is rescheduled.

9:21 a.m. – Lewis has four pending cases and he owes fines in each case. He asks to be put back on a payment plan and promises to pay $377 today and then $120 a month.

9:27 a.m. – Victoria failed to appear in court Jan. 14. She is to be arraigned later in the day.

9:28 a.m. – Francisco failed to appear for a court hearing on Wednesday and told Riggs he couldn’t get off work. “You have to get here; otherwise I make the arrangements and my arrangements aren’t very pleasant,” Riggs says. He is rescheduled to appear in court.

9:32 a.m. – Hannah has two cases pending, speeding and failure to appear in court on Jan 16. By default judgment, she owes $290 in fines on the speeding charge and her driver’s license is suspended. She is also charged with failure to have proof of insurance and she failed to appear in court on this charge on March 4. She owes $1,043 in fines on this charge by default judgement and is suspended an additional 90 days. She will file a written motion by May 17 for forgiveness in missing the dates in court.

9:37 a.m. – Joseph asks the court for an order of home detention, so he can get an ankle bracelet. A clerk will help him at the window.

9:40 a.m. – Diana says her driver’s license was suspended. She works in Chandler and is having financial issues. She wants a work driving permit and changes to her payment plan. She also missed a traffic hearing. Riggs tells her to make a payment and the court will release a hold they have on her license. She promises to pay $35 today and $30 a month.

9:44 a.m. – Darrin has two warrants against him and has pending fines, but he was not making payments. He promises to pay $60 today and $60 per month.

9:48 a.m. – Janella tells the court she missed a $200 payment yesterday because she wasn’t in the area and she lost her wallet. Riggs says she has until May 15 to start a $100 monthly payment.

9:50 a.m. – Diane and Victoria, two cases from earlier in the day, are arraigned. Both are criminal arraignments. Riggs explains the rules of arraignment to the two defendants at the same time. Diane was charged Dec. 15, 2016 with driving while suspended. She is also charged with failure to appear. Riggs sets a pretrial conference in the case for June 5. She owes $327 in fines for the failure to appear charge and she agrees to pay $163 today and the rest by June 1.

10:02 a.m. – Victoria is arraigned for driving while suspended on Nov. 16, 2018. The matter is set for a pretrial conference on June 11. On another charge, a plan is set up for a payment of $100 on Monday and monthly payments starting June 15.

10:05 a.m. – Caleb apparently had a disagreement with one of the court staff in the lobby before entering open court. It is something Riggs describes as “not very pleasant.” Riggs says Caleb called a clerk a name. Riggs suggests he apologize to the clerk on the way out of the building. Riggs says when you yell at a member of his staff you are also yelling at him. Caleb tells Riggs he finished driving school. Riggs dismisses a no-proof-of-insurance charge against him and says he was then done with the court and doesn’t need to come back.

10:16 a.m. – William is sworn in by Riggs. He asks the court for a protection order, which was granted by the court as evidence of harassment was established.

10:24 a.m. – Open Court finishes. Riggs says it was a light day and 27 cases were heard in just two hours and 12 minutes.

This story appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

Photo by Jim Headley

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Maricopa Fire/Medical Department
Chief Brady Leffler
Administration Office
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45695 W. Edison Road
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Main Station
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Maricopa Police Department
Maricopa Police Department

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Maricopa Municipal Court
Presiding Judge Lyle Riggs
19955 N. Wilson Ave.

Maricopa/Stanfield Justice Court (Pinal County Precinct 8)
Justice of the Peace Lyle Riggs
19955 N. Wilson Ave.

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Presiding Judge Stephen F. McCarville
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by -
Justice of the Peace Lyle Riggs has been working with a distressed court since he was elected in 2014.

More than two years after the Arizona Supreme Court took over of the Maricopa/Stanfield Justice Court, local control was restored April 27.

The Justice Court and the Maricopa Municipal Court were found to be in financial disarray in 2013. Pinal County Superior Court has been working with Judge Lyle Riggs to straighten out issues left by Riggs’ predecessor.

“Judge Riggs and his staff have indicated that they will continue to work their ‘action plan’ as there is still progress to be made,” said Pinal County Superior Court Presiding Judge Steven McCarville. “However, I must say that this is a very different court than it was a couple of years ago. We are happy that we have been able to help the court move forward and have no doubt they will become even stronger over time.”

A series of audits starting in December 2013 unveiled improper financial management on such a scale that then-Justice of the Peace Scott Sulley was removed from the bench and eventually disbarred. Sulley was both JP for the county and the municipal magistrate for the city of Maricopa.

In January 2014, the Arizona Supreme Court ordered McCarville to assume administrative control and oversight of the day-to-day operations of the Municipal Court and the Justice Court.

During the ensuing month, it became clear deficiencies in both courts were more significant than those reported in the December 2013 audit findings. Both courts’ financial recordkeeping and case management systems had broken down, and the court had ceased to properly function in several key areas.

As a result, the Arizona Supreme Court ordered McCarville to assign interim judicial officials to handle the judicial duties of the courts.

Subsequently, Lyle Riggs was elected JP in 2014. He was made interim city magistrate in October 2015.

Clerks from other justice courts in Pinal County and administrative staff from Pinal County Superior Court have worked to restore proper operations of both courts, under the direction of McCarville. These clerks and staff worked overtime and on Saturdays as needed.

“I am deeply grateful for the clerks throughout Pinal County and for the staff from Pinal County Superior Court Administration who assisted in this effort,” Riggs said. “It was an amazing team effort.”

During Wednesday's city council meeting, Riggs expressed his gratitude to everyone who helped turn the court around. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
During Wednesday’s city council meeting, Riggs expressed his gratitude to everyone who helped turn the court around. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

As a result, the Arizona Supreme Court has rescinded its prior orders and restored local control of administration in both courts.

“This order from the Supreme Court is a testament to the hard work that many dedicated court employees have done over the past two years,” said Pinal County Board of Supervisors Vice-Chairman Anthony Smith. “They have worked tirelessly to overcome the many challenges that faced this court to get back on the right track and re-establish the integrity we expect in our court system.”

“We are thankful for the support from Pinal County and Judge McCarville to rectify the state of our local courts,” said City of Maricopa Mayor Christian Price.  “Judge Riggs has done a tremendous job moving the courts in the right direction and we feel confident under his leadership our citizens will be dealing with a local court system they can trust.”