Trials squeezing Gilbert court
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 11, 2005

More juries mean more cost

Chris Ramirez

You won't likely find defendants in murder trials or high-profile drug-running cases in Gilbert's municipal courthouse.

Not unless they get ticketed for speeding or popped for some nickel-and-dime theft.

Still, officials for this limited-jurisdiction courthouse say they're getting more requests by defendants to have their cases heard by juries.

And that's getting expensive.

Costs for jury trials for this year appear to be on pace to double those Gilbert spent only two years ago, Court Administrator Judy Richitelli said.

That could be a problem for a court with only one part-time Spanish-language interpreter and three judges qualified to hear criminal cases.

"Everyone is affected when a trial is going on," Richitelli said. "We all have to make adjustments when a judge is tied up in a trial."

This isn't Boston Legal.

In this courthouse, you're likely to hear misdemeanor cases involving low-level drunken drivers, vandalisms, property-line disputes and barking dogs.

Still, defendants have seemingly become more apt to fight small-court cases rather than pleading guilty and paying fines to dispose of cases quickly.

The number of trials requested by defendants here has climbed to 27 last year from 19 in 2002, according to court records obtained by The Gilbert Republic through a state Freedom of Information request. Fourteen defendants asked for jury trials between January and August.

The court typically pays residents $12 a day to be in a jury pool. Jury pools typically are between 20 and 25 people. Seven jurors are selected for trial service.

Mailing out summonses also costs. The town reimburses jurors 40.5 cents a mile to travel to and from the courthouse.

Gilbert spent about $12,600 to seat juries last year, up from $8,100 in 2002, court documents show.

Presiding Judge David Phares believes the solution is simple: get rid of jury trials in municipal and justice courts altogether.

In a report to the Town Council, he favored a recent push by Gilbert and other communities to ask the state to eliminate jury trials in limited-jurisdiction court.

The state Supreme Court began hearing arguments last year on whether certain misdemeanor crimes in Arizona should continue to be eligible for jury trials. Most cities and towns have filed briefs asking the Supreme Court to do away with criminal jury trials in limited-jurisdictions courts, but the high court hasn't issued a ruling.

In the meantime, work continues at the Gilbert courthouse.