About 100 leading Rim Country politicians and court officials gathered on Monday night to celebrate the arrival of the state Supreme Court to hear two appeals Tuesday morning in the Payson High School auditorium.
The Gila County Bar Association, Payson and Star Valley joined forces to host a dinner at Diamond Point Shadows in Star Valley in honor of the first time the state's high court has ever held its proceedings in Gila County.
Most of the Payson and Star Valley council attended, together with top superior court officials, county officials and a roll call of Rim Country's movers and shakers.
The dinner came on the eve of this morning's scheduled two-hours of hearings. One involves a death penalty appeal based on defense claims that the prosecution misrepresented the revenge murder of a purported child molester as a murder motivated by robbery. The second case involves a drug conviction and questions about whether a prosecutor can change the charges at the end of a trial.
Chief Justice Ruth V. McGregor welcomed the crowd of local luminaries, noting that taking the Supreme Court's hearings on the road is intended to both educate the public and give the justices a sense for how the courts were operating in areas outside Maricopa County.
She noted that surveys filled out by people who use the court system have consistently given the Gila County Superior Court system high marks.
She also noted that one recent court initiative to partner with a private firm to go after court fees and restitution costs had netted $110 million. That system will shortly began operating in Gila County, which should provide a budget boost to local jurisdictions that share in the court fees.
She then recognized the various mayors and members of the boards of supervisors in attendance, including Superior Court Presiding Judge Peter Cahill, who helped lobby for the court to hold its hearings in Payson.
The chief justice even managed a gentle quip directed at Star Valley, where speed cameras on Highway 260 have already produced thousands of speeding tickets -- which she referred to as "the town with the speed trap," to appreciative laughter.
The all star audience then devoted themselves to prime rib, shrimp, political gossip -- and finally driving home very carefully through Star Valley.