The Arizona Supreme Court has temporarily ousted Judge Patty Nolan from administrating the Globe Regional Justice Court after an audit revealed “significant delays” in issuing warrants and setting trials, among other things, according to an administrative order dated April 1.
The alleged administrative tangles so delayed the start of 178 court cases that the county attorney had to file motions to dismiss them, according to the order.
“Cases need to flow through courts in a timely manner,” said Communications Director for the Arizona Supreme Court Cari Gerchick. “Courts have a duty and an obligation to the public to make sure cases are handled in a timely manner.”
“Obviously we’ve had some issues that the Supreme Court is helping us with,” Nolan said Wednesday, adding that she wanted to wait to discuss the matter after the re-organization was completed. “We’re looking at some different ways of doing things.”
An Administrative Office of the Courts limited audit in March, which has not yet been released, revealed problems in the Globe Justice Court significant enough to warrant Nolan’s removal, said Gerchick.
A more thorough audit is under way which will reveal the problems’ severity and sources, although Gerchick said she didn’t know how long it will take. Gila County officials have speculated it will last three or four months.
The problems are “serious enough from the perspective of we need to make sure courts run smoothly and that cases are processed processed in a timely manner,” said Gerchick.
The justice court’s financial management is also under examination, namely that the court’s practices didn’t adhere to required standards, said Gerchick.
That includes relying too heavily on manual receipts and “poor reconciliation practices,” which is essentially like balancing a checkbook, according to the administrative order.
“It looks like mismanagement,” Gerchick said.
“Once the report is final, that may have other information in it, but at this point everyone’s focus is on, look — let’s identify the problems and see what we need to do to fix it so that the court is running smoothly.”
“It’s all procedural things,” and nothing criminal, Nolan said.
The court handed control over to Gila County Superior Court Presiding Judge Peter Cahill, who appointed a Globe attorney, John Perlman, to temporarily take Nolan’s place.
“My job is to give, as soon as possible, the control of the court back to the elected official,” Cahill said.
Gila County has two regional justice courts, in addition to a countywide superior court. The audit only concerns the Globe regional court, not the Payson court.
Until the audit finishes, Nolan will assist Payson Regional Justice Court Judge Dorothy Little, who is also helping with Globe’s vast caseload, Cahill told supervisors Tuesday.
Cahill said he became aware of problems about a year ago when the county attorney told him that the start of trials and issuing of warrants was delayed.
Cahill told Nolan to develop a plan for resolving cases more quickly, according to the administrative order.
“Unfortunately, very little improved as far as case processing,” county attorney Daisy Flores wrote in an e-mail.
Last November, she personally reviewed all 1,200 justice court matters that were waiting for court action or warrants, which led to dismissing 178 misdemeanor cases.
Also, warrants for failure to appear in court were delayed or not issued at all, Flores wrote. While she previously knew there was a problem, Flores wrote that the review illuminated the full extent.
Cahill then asked the state court’s administrative office to audit the Globe Justice Court, according to the order.
“We have worked with Judge Nolan for many years and she has always been agreeable to work towards correcting any problems,” Flores wrote. “Even during this difficult time, Judge Nolan has been working positively toward correcting the problem.”
Although Nolan remains on the county payroll, and Perlman has been added, Cahill said he doesn’t expect the incident to cost the county money.
Perlman’s salary, which will cost roughly $34,000 for four months, will likely come from a special fund into which court payments are placed, said Gila County Superior Court Administrator Mary Hawkins.
Cahill, when asked about Globe’s issues potentially crossing into Payson along with the judge, said Nolan will not handle administration in Payson, just deciding cases. He added that no one has questioned Nolan’s rulings.