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As a result, the Arizona Supreme Court has rescinded its prior orders and restored local control of administration in both courts.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