Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, joined by state Rep. Russell
Pearce, wants to abolish courts in the county that focus on Spanish
speakers, American Indians and the homeless.
Thomas said his office is considering "lawful options" to end its
required participation in county Superior Court's DUI court for Spanish
speakers and American Indians.
Earlier this year, Thomas pulled a staff member from a committee
organizing a court for the homeless that Tempe and Phoenix Municipal
Courts will begin operating in February.
Pearce, R-Mesa, who is chairman of a House Appropriations Committee,
said he will use the "big stick" of withholding funds if necessary to
Thomas and Pearce both say the trend of creating courts based on race,
language and socio-economic status is unconstitutional.
Presiding Judge Barbara Rodriguez Mundell, who oversees Maricopa County
Superior Court and the county's lower courts, said the special courts
are constitutional and Thomas doesn't understand how they operate.
"We did our research to make sure this is constitutional," Mundell said.
The Spanish-speaking and American Indian DUI courts were established in
2002 before Thomas was elected and are funded by a federal grant.
They are rehabilitation programs for convicted felony DUI offenders on
probation, said Mundell, who handles the Spanish-speaking court.
"We want to teach people skills so that they maintain sobriety so they
don't drink and drive, and it is important to give them these lessons in
their native language so they understand fully and they buy into the
program," Mundell said.
The Arizona Constitution requires that all courts of record, those where
a record of every spoken and written word is kept, conduct business in
That means all pretrial, trial, change of plea and sentencing
proceedings must be done in English. But once a Spanish speaker is
convicted and joins the program, then the proceedings are no longer "of
record" and are simply monthly status conferences on the rehabilitative
progress of the defendant, Mundell said.
If the defendant violates probation and has to be taken into custody
after the conviction, then the proceedings revert to English and back on
the record, she said.
Thomas said that even if it is essentially a post-conviction, probation
program, the Spanish-speaking and American Indian DUI courts violate the
14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from
denying citizens equal protection of the law.
"You're making decisions about criminal punishment, which is what
probation is, based on someone's nationality," Thomas said.
The Indian DUI court "appears to be a flat out race-based court," Thomas
Judge Louraine Arkfeld, Tempe Municipal Court's presiding judge, helped
lead the development of the homeless court.
She said the homeless court requires more than just being homeless to
participate and the defendants must be referred by specific agencies
only after undergoing significant treatment and sobriety.
"This is another obstacle they have in getting things resolved so they
can go back to being productive citizens," Arkfeld said. "That's a good
thing for the community."