Hearing Officers May Replace Dismissed Judges

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Judge Robert Duber, who recently dismissed Gila County's three temporary judges in the wake of a ruling by Arizona's chief justice, is now working on a plan to replace the trio with hearing officers, Gila County District One Supervisor Ron Christensen said.

At Tuesday's board of supervisors meeting, "Judge Duber presented a plan to appoint hearing officers as opposed to pro-tem judges to (preside over) such matters as traffic violations," Christensen said. "But these people would not have some of the other responsibilities of judges."

While Christensen called Duber's idea "a step in the process that will relieve some of the overloading in the court system right now," he added that "it is by no means the total answer we need in regard to this issue. I know that Judge Ronnie McDaniel had to cancel his vacation plans in order to handle the backup that's already been created."

Duber removed the temporary judges from the county's payroll after Arizona Chief Justice Charles E. Jones ruled that the state constitution required such jurists to be licensed members of the Arizona State Bar.

None of the three temporary judges released Dorothy Little and Jim Weeks of Payson, and Rebecca Baeza of Globe-Miami are licensed attorneys.

It is Christensen's view that Jones' ruling is "apparently in violation of the state constitution, and getting the constitution changed would be extraordinarily difficult. The way I read it, the law does not say a temporary judge 'must' be someone who has passed the bar."

The persons most likely to fill the hearing-officer positions, Christensen said, would be the dismissed temporary judges themselves, who would likely receive pay commensurate with their earnings prior to their dismissal.

"In other words," Christensen said, "the only thing that would actually change under this plan would be their job title."

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