BY LINDA BENTLEY | APRIL 11, 2012
Desert Ridge Justice of the Peace faces formidable challenger
“Even the parties who don’t gain victory perceive that they have had their fair day in court”
Photo by Linda Bentley
PHOENIX – In 2008, Clancy Jayne was elected the inaugural Desert Ridge Justice of the Peace, which serves the North and Northeast Phoenix areas as well as Cave Creek, Carefree, New River and Desert Hills.
He was elected after a field of three that included Paul Henderson and Bill Ponath, both attorneys, split the vote in the primary election to give Jayne the win.
Ponath, who has served as a judge pro tem for the Maricopa County Justice Courts, is taking up the challenge again.
Jayne is not an attorney and there is no requirement in Arizona for a justice of the peace to be an attorney or have any formal legal training, although the issue has been debated time and time again.
Citizens may recall Jayne was booted from the ballot after a court determined in a petition challenge filed by Rep. Carl Seel, R-Dist. 6, Jayne did not have the minimum number of qualified signatures to run for reelection to the House of Representatives in Legislative District 6.
While serving in the legislature, Jayne became known for his poor spelling and grammar, so Sonoran News decided to check in and see how he’s been fairing as a justice of the peace.
And, as it turns out, he’s not doing very well.
Paul Anderson of Grand Blanc, Mich., who was a defendant in Jayne’s court, filed a complaint against Jayne with the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct in February 2011, after the lower court of appeals noted Jayne had committed a variety of errors while presiding over Anderson’s case, which Anderson called “grievously serious miscarriages of due process and justice.”
Jayne’s May 24, 2011 response, which follows complete with spelling and grammatical errors, stated, “The points of this complaint are correct and accurate and while occurred early in my service there is not excuse for this.
“Before the complaint was filed I did vacate the judgment as that was the only action I could do to resolve the mistakes from that day. I have at my expense attended and called in trainers who have helped me see the errors of my ways.
“This included bring in a new Protem who is a Glendale City Attorney with years of knowledge in the court room.
“I have benefited form the training from Mr. Nick DePizza.”
Jayne goes on to say, “While I am embarrassed to the facts in this case all I could do is what I did to resolve the case which at the end of the day has stood the new trials and prevailed but with all the proper steps being taken.”
Welcoming any additional training or actions the commission felt was in order, Jayne concluded with, “I work hard to be sure each and every person served is respected and their rights or rights are not fully respected. While this person has a lot of history which I did get in this transfered case there is not excuse for mistakes made.”
In July 2011, the commission found Jayne violated the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Commission Chair Louis Dominguez, on behalf of the commission, issued an order stating the record demonstrated Jayne, who acknowledged the same in his response, had engaged in numerous ex parte communications with the parties on one side of the underlying case.
Although Jayne was new to the bench at the time of his numerous ex parte communications, he had completed all new judge training, including training on the code and specifically relating to ex parte communications.
Jayne was issued an informal reprimand.
In November 2011, the commission received information about Jayne’s activities and opened its own investigation, raising three areas of concern and which resulted in three distinct resolutions.
The first two areas of concern resulted in dismissals with private comments.
However, because those two areas of concern were so closely intertwined with the third area of concern, which resulted in a public sanction and dismissal, the commission found the disclosure of otherwise confidential information was necessary to protect the administration of justice.
First, Jayne’s “Breakfast with the Judge” series resulted in the commission issuing a private, strongly worded warning letter.
Second, Jayne’s personal website includes a list of “local resources” that reference only one political party, potentially suggesting Jayne may be subject to political influence.
Further, the website included a reference to Jayne’s private financial consulting work, which the commission addressed through a private advisory comment and dismissal.
Third, Jayne’s personal website contained an advertisement for his wedding services, which is a clear and direct violation of the Rules of Judicial Conduct.
Because Jayne had previously received an advisory letter when he included a wedding services advertisement on his website, the commission determined the violation warranted a public reprimand.
After reviewing the allegations made in a June 2011 complaint by an anonymous court employee, the commission found Jayne violated the Rules of Judicial Conduct, warranting an informal sanction.
The complaint alleged Jayne had engaged in improper ex parte communications with a defendant and improperly handled the matter.
In particular, the complainant believed the judge treated the defendant differently because of a personal or political relationship.
The commission determined Jayne engaged in several improper ex parte communications that clearly violated the limitations in the Rules of Judicial Conduct.
The complainant wrote: “On July 9, 2010, Judge Jayne granted an ex parte delay request for his friend, state Senator Scott Bungaard, on the day of his civil traffic hearing. The DPS officer had to come back a second time on Aug. 27, 2010. However, Sen. Bungaard failed to appear on that day as well and was fined $185. However, on Sept. 7, 2010, Judge Jayne waived the required $20 time payment fee and the required $30 default fee,” and included a copy of the iCIS (court administration program) printout.
Meanwhile, Ponath has been actively collecting signatures to run against Jayne in the September primary election and has been heartily endorsed by former State Senate President Russell Pearce, who believes Ponath “will serve with honor, integrity and knowledge of the law and Constitution.”
Pearce was also impressed with Ponath’s book, “Verdict for America,” and called it a “phenomenal contribution to the betterment of our nation.”
Lothar Goernitz, a panel trustee for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the District of Arizona, said, I have had the privilege of reviewing Mr. Ponath’s pleadings before the court on a regular basis consisting of many hundreds of cases over a period of almost 15 years. I can affirmatively state that his work was some of the easiest for me to deal with because it was always professionally prepared and perfectly organized.”
Retired Arcadia/Biltmore Justice of the Peace Michael Orcutt said his court staff consistently praised Ponath for “his character, abilities and commitment to performing at the highest level.”
Orcutt went on to say Ponath made “everyone feel dignified and comfortable when they appeared before him,” adding, “Even the parties who don’t gain victory perceive that they have had their fair day in court.”
So, come September, voters can choose between Jayne, who continues to struggle with spelling and grammar, and Ponath, whose book, “Verdict for America” is incredibly well-written and researched, for their Desert Ridge Justice of Peace.