Judge tosses lawsuit to stop Spanish DUI program
The Arizona Republic 
Feb. 23, 2007

Jahna Berry

 A federal judge has tossed Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas' lawsuit to abolish the county's Spanish-language DUI courts.

Thomas argued that the programs should stop because they are unconstitutional. Thomas claimed that defendants in a Spanish-language program who violate the terms of their probation consistently get shorter jail sentences than defendants in the general population.

In his opinion Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Earl Carroll found that Thomas had no standing to bring the lawsuit because he is not a litigant in DUI courts. "Thomas . . . loses nothing or gains nothing by carrying out his prosecutorial duties before the separate DUI courts, except for an 'abstract measure of constitutional principle,'" the judge wrote,

Carroll made a similar finding for three DUI victims who were also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Presiding Judge Barbara Rodriguez Mundell of Maricopa County Superior Court, who also presides over some of the special court sessions, could not be reached for comment on the ruling.

Mundell has said in the past that, "This is not a race issue. It's a public safety issue. . . . We're trying to show them how serious it is to drink and drive."

The county attorney plans to appeal the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary, Thomas spokesman Barnett Lotstein said. Thomas could not be reached for comment.

"This was a technical ruling," Lotstein said. "It's not a decision on whether race-based courts are legal. We object to it because it creates unequal courts and that is unfair to everyone."

Although they are called courts, the DUI courts in question are actually probation programs for defendants who have been convicted of felony DUIs - most DUIs are misdemeanors - and have spent four months in prison. In DUI court, a judge and probation officers make sure that the defendants are seeking treatment and complying with the specifics of their probation.

Since 2002, DUI courts have been conducted in Spanish and English, and special conditions have been set up for Native Americans convicted of felony DUI.

Republic reporter Michael Kiefer contributed to this article.