David Colby, Gila County's commissioner/judge pro tempore, was fired yesterday for views he expressed as a political candidate in last Tuesday's edition of the Payson Roundup.
The county's presiding judge, Robert Duber, notified Colby that his termination was effective yesterday, both Duber and Colby said.
"I spoke out in support of the people in northern Gila County, and I got terminated for it," Colby said this morning.
In the Roundup interview last week, Colby announced his candidacy for the elected position left vacant by the recent retirement of Judge Edd Dawson. He went on to say that northern Gila County is not fairly treated by Globe decision-makers when it comes to the allocation of county resources, and that other possible candidates for Dawson's seat who might arise "won't be anywhere near as qualified as I am in terms of experience level, background and academic level, performance, any of those things."
Duber, also contacted this morning, said Colby's information was incorrect.
"It is always our concern that, when judges ... state opinions, people take that as fact," Duber said. "The suggestion that there's some kind of Globe conspiracy to keep Payson from having qualified candidates may be an opinion, but it's not a fact. When a judge says it, it sounds like it's a fact."
Of Colby's expressed view on the county's allocation of resources, Duber added, "Payson and Globe have exactly the same access to mediation services ... In fact, over the years, we have expanded (Payson) services ..."
The right to express opinions, Duber said, does not necessarily apply to Gila County judges.
"If I express an opinion, people accept what I say with some authority," the presiding judge said. "I am supposed to know, not guess, and certainly not take advantage of people's lack of information. If I say something, I'm held to a higher standard than anyone else ... Judges don't have personal lives that they can express discriminatory or accusatory kinds of things."
Colby defends the accuracy of his statements, as well as his right to speak out in public.
"I am seeking a governor's nomination for an elected position," Colby said. "How can a judge who is to be voted by the voters be (accused of being) non-judicial by talking to the voters? How does that work? How can I be held to be doing something improper if I am simply talking to the people who might elect me?"
Colby, a Valley lawyer since 1979, has been a Payson resident for two years. He was appointed commissioner in March by Duber, following an extensive Citizen Committee review and unanimous recommendation.
Colby's reaction to his termination was shared and magnified by Payson Town Councilmember Jim Spencer.
"Apparently the truth hurts," Spencer said this morning. "Judge Duber's action is another example of the divisiveness and dirty politics from southern Gila County. His rationale for terminating Judge Colby was that his statements were factually not correct, which is very debatable, and that it's improper for a judge to speak out.
"I think Judge Colby has a responsibility to talk to the voters, and he did just that," Spencer said.
"It's a disappointment," said Payson Mayor Ray Schum of Colby's termination. "We've got to get more people running for elected positions involved in the county government from this part of the county ... (Colby) might have helped the superior court make the move to this area."
Colby, meantime, wondered, "If the belief is that judges aren't supposed to be political, then why are we electing them?
"This is a democracy," he added. "The governor is seeking input from the citizens about who is qualified (for Dawson's seat). It's an elected position. To say that it's inappropriate for the people running for that office to speak out is to say the public shouldn't be informed."