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