Fifty-Eight Years and Counting: The Elusive Quest to Reform Arizona’s Justice of the Peace Courts

The justice of the peace courts serve a significant function in the Arizona judicial system. They process approximately 34% of all cases filed each year in the Arizona court system and are often the public’s only point of contact with the judiciary. Given their prominence, it is essential that the justice courts be effectively organized and administered, adequately funded, and their judges be well trained and highly qualified. In recent years, the justice courts have struggled to match this ideal. For example, in March 2009, the Administrative Office of the Arizona Supreme Court found that the Globe Regional Court, consisting of Globe’s justice and magistrate courts, had numerous case processing inefficiencies and poor financial management practices. This prompted the Arizona Supreme Court to transfer administrative control and day-to-day oversight of the Globe Justice Courts to the Gila County Superior Court. There have been several similar instances over the past ten years. There have also been a number of scandals involving justices of the peace (JPs) that have resulted in official censure and reprimand.

Controversy surrounding the justice courts is not new. Over the past fifty-eight years, problems in the Arizona justice courts have prompted at least seven different comprehensive studies and proposals for institutional reform. For varying reasons, many of these proposals have never been implemented, and substantial justice court reform remains elusive. The purpose of this Note is to once again draw attention to the justice courts and their need for reform. The Note first provides a broad overview of the institutional features of the justice court system. It then examines the traditional criticisms of these courts and the modern day relevance of these criticisms. Finally, the Note reviews the various efforts to reform the justice courts in Arizona.