At a young 30 years of age, newly appointed Gila County Attorney Daisy Gilker exhibits the confidence of a prosecuting attorney with 50 years experience instead of five.
Gilker assumed the reins as the No. 1 prosecutor in Gila County last month when her predecessor, Jim Hazel, was appointed Superior Court Judge, replacing retiring Judge Edd Dawson.
"Ambitious" is one of many adjectives that describes Gilker. She has been on an education "fast track" from her days as a student at Globe High School all the way through law school at the University of Arizona.
There were some side trips, all education related.
The first was as an exchange student in Japan the summer following her junior year of high school.
Gilker's four-month immersion into the Arabic language while attending the Ains Shams University in Cairo, Egypt was part of her plan to specialize in international law at the U of A.
The trip had an added attraction for Gilker, who has set her sights on being a member of the 2004 Olympic fencing team. While in Egypt, she continued to hone her skills by training with the Egyptian National fencing team. She is currently ranked No. 1 for the US World Team.
Gilker did not let any grass grow under her feet while attending the U of A. She entered the school in 1989 with a coveted Flinn Scholarship, received her bachelors in 1993, and graduated in the top three percent. Gilker conquered her masters with a 4.0, first in her class, graduating in 1994. Both degrees were in Middle Eastern studies and she graduated summa cum laude.
Gilker entered law school in 1994 with an eye on international law. However, that all changed during the summer following her first year of law school
"I worked as a probation officer for Gila County during the summer after one year of law school," Gilker said. "It changed everything."
Gilker returned to law school in the fall of 1995 and moved her studies from international law to criminal law. She had fallen out of love with foreign affairs and became deeply committed to the aspects of criminal prosecution and defense.
She also became a regular visitor to the County Attorney's office under the tutelage of former county attorney Jerry DeRose as a one-day-a-week clerk during school and a full-time clerk during the summer.
"I went to work for Jerry (DeRose), full-time as a prosecutor, two days after passing the bar in 1997," Gilker said.
Gilker remained with DeRose until 2000. She took a one-year hiatus to work in Texas for a law firm that provided her with civil law experience representing three Texas municipalities, a water district and an appraisal district.
Gilker returned to Gila County as the Chief Deputy for the prosecutors office under Jim Hazel in 2001.
The decision to appoint Gilker to take Hazel's place has not come without criticism. Gilker remains unphased by comments about her age or lack of courtroom experience.
"I started at the bottom in the county attorney's office and worked my way up," Gilker said. "I have ultimate confidence in my ability and so do those in law enforcement and the courts."
Gilker does not lack for confidence.
"Civilly I represent the school districts, fire districts and board of supervisors," Gilker said. "It takes good organizational skills, leadership ability and a strong legal mind....I know I have all of these."
Gilker admittedly has a strong stance against the illegal use and possession of drugs.
"Drugs are honestly the source of most crimes ... burglaries ... thefts ... DUI ... assaults ... everything seems to have a connection to drugs," Gilker said. "Drug users affect their family, children and are a burden on society ... the worst is parents who are using drugs."
Gilker has changed the charging process on drug cases from previous policies.
Hazel left the county attorney's office, having filed 561 total cases during his one-year as prosecutor in 2001. This figure wanes compared to the prior year under DeRose, who filed a total of 1,018 cases.
The difference is largely due to the fact Hazel would not file criminal drug charges against a defendant until he had scientific lab results, which could take months.
Gilker, as of March 1, 2002, said her office will be charging all drug cases without the lab results, based on the probable cause filed by the officers. The change will be retroactive, freeing up hundreds of backlogged drug cases from 2001.
Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner said he was pleased with Gilker's decision.
"Obviously I think it's very good that the county attorney wants to take an aggressive stance to combat the drug problem," Gartner said. "I believe it will have an immediate impact in the area of many different types of crime. We appreciate her support."
Gilker's commitment to the prosecutor's office was reaffirmed recently when she filed her candidacy papers to run for the position of county attorney in November as a Republican.
Gilker said she changed parties from Democrat to Republican to be considered as Hazel's replacement. However, she said she will remain a Republican.
"As a Democrat, I never was really politically involved," Gilker said. "I have met with the Republican party and will stay a Republican ... it is the party of my choice."
She has appointed Patti Wortman as her first chief deputy in Payson and Bryan Chambers as the second chief deputy in the Globe office.