Colby Eyes Judge's Seat For The Good Of Payson


David Colby, Gila County's commissioner/judge pro tempore, calls himself a "rabble-rouser."

Right now, he's got quite a bit of rabble to rouse and all of it addresses the county's freshly-adopted redistricting plan, which for the next 10 years will keep the seat of power in Globe despite the ever-increasing population of the Rim country.

What that means is that local residents will still have to make the drive to Globe to finalize the bulk of their legal matters or fulfill their jury duty responsibilities.

Or maybe not, says Colby, who has a plan to bring power to Payson via the voting booth.

If he tells you about his idea with the intensity and passion of someone who wants to run for public office well, there's a reason. We'll get to that shortly.

A native of Mason City, Iowa, the 50-year-old Colby began practicing law in the Valley in 1979, and has been a Payson resident for the past two years. He was appointed to his current position in March by Gila County's presiding judge Robert Duber, after an extensive Citizen Committee review and unanimous recommendation.

"The only difference between a judge pro tempore and a seated judge is that a seated judge is an elected official, and that carries a cloak of authority and legitimacy," Colby explains. "I am as powerful but only when a case is put on my desk. I can't control what I hear, unlike the two elected judges. They have power to make demands because they have a constituency that they represent."

Which brings us back to Colby's plan: to bring half of that power to the Payson area.

"The redistricting plan that has been selected is not the plan that's most favorable to Payson in terms of the way it divides the vote, so what we can expect over the next 10 years is that the county supervisors will continue to be controlled by Globe," Colby says. "If you realize that, then you realize that over the next 10 years, the demographic chasm between northern and southern Gila County is only going to get worse ... and we're not going to redistrict again for another 10 years."

"But we have at-large elections on judges, county clerk, country recorder, supervisor ... You start going down the list and you realize that we still have the power of the vote," Colby says, adding that with the recent retirement of elected Judge Edd Dawson, "There's going to be the need for a new judge to fill that spot ... and I want the job."

The way the seat-filling procedure works, he says, is that Governor Jane Hull will appoint someone to the position in January, and then that person will defend his or her appointment in the general election of November, 2002. As always, Colby points out, the incumbent will have the upper hand in that election.

"The reason why this matters to us is that, even though we're the growing area of the county, the decision on resource allocation is fundamentally a supervisorial question into which the presiding judge has huge input," Colby notes. "So really, the only way for Northern Gila County to get its fair share for lack of a better term is to use the vote.

"Globe is now fielding their candidate, and they do not want someone from Payson," Colby says, "because it's just the beginning of a slippery slope of resource-allocation arguments."

On that slope is his own position, he adds. The county doesn't "allocate enough resources to Payson for a full-time judge ... Could they pay more? Sure, but that's a resource allocation question. They've got their resources, they must decide what to keep in Payson and what to keep in Globe and they've always made decisions to keep the resources in Globe. They're afraid to have a full-time elected judge who represents this portion of the county.

"So they're going to field a candidate or two in Globe, and they won't be anywhere near as qualified as I am in terms of experience level, background and academic level, performance, any of those things. But they don't care they just want a Globe judge.

"If that happens, then I stay commissioner and life goes on and I'm not complaining. But this is not the kind of opportunity that comes up very often."

And the results of such an opportunity are not easy to alter, Colby notes. "Once a judge gets into a county like this, the chances of them ever being defeated, or of someone running against them, are slim to none," he says. "Generally, once you're in, you're in. Globe knows that, the presiding judge knows that.

"What I'm doing," Colby adds with a grin, "is stirring up the pot ... If I were elected, I'd continue to do everything I'm now doing as commissioner, and then add duties to that. My job would be to bring more services to Payson to spend more days a week on more matters so people won't have to travel to Globe to get their situations resolved."

At the same time, Colby says, if Payson had its own judge, "the pressures you could subtly put on the presiding judge over time would be profound. Why? because he's elected, too.

"I would be local, and I would be demanding in putting resources up here. While Globe will not like me, they would have to respect me. And over a period of time we'd get all of our divorces and other business done up here and sooner or later, we'd get jury trials up here.

"Will that happen overnight? No. But one thing is clear: Unless we get a full-time elected official up here, it will not happen within the next ten years. It's not going to happen at all, because there's nothing to make it happen.

"Everybody complains about having to drive all the way to Globe to take care of so many legal matters, but nobody knows how to solve it," Colby said. "Well, this is how you solve it."

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