Arizona Supreme Court’s assessment of Cave Creek Municipal Court

Reviewers were unable to locate a Judgment and Sentence Order form or minute entry, as required by statute, in 40 percent of cases reviewed
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lianne sefcovicCAVE CREEK – In September, the Arizona Supreme Court Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) issued its assessment of Cave Creek Municipal Court, one of 23 municipal courts in Maricopa County.

The report noted in January 2012, shortly after Judge Lianne Sefcovic (r) began presiding over the court, the court administrator resigned, a new administrator was hired on a contract basis and began working full-time in June 2012.

Because the court experienced a complete staff turnover during that timeframe, the AOC focused its assessment on the practices in place beginning in July 2012.

Interim Judge Lawrence Scaringelli began presiding over the court in August 2013.

Key findings of the AOC’s assessment included:

• Assessing Court Costs – The court was found to be assessing “Court Costs” without a local ordinance authorizing the imposition of such costs.

• Lack of Judicial Presence – The presiding judge of the court was typically present at the court to conduct hearings for just a few hours one day each week. This schedule did not allow ample time for judicial oversight of court operations, communications with the new court administrator or court improvement initiatives.

• Statistical and Administrative Reporting – The court was not submitting required statistical information to the AOC. Required statistical reports include: monthly case activity reports, annual expenditure surveys, annual personnel surveys and quarterly revenue surveys.

• Remittance to State – Monthly remittance to the state of Arizona was consistently delayed.

• AZTEC (case management software) Receipting and Disbursements – The court was not consistently utilizing AZTEC to receipt monies or to record disbursement of funds.

While the AOC found the court demonstrated compliance in most areas of its processing of DUI cases, it found the questionnaire used to determine if a person was eligible for a court-appointed public defender was not Supreme Court-approved and contained a dozen deficiencies.

The AOC also found the court needed to improve its DUI case processing relative to plea agreements, sentencing documentation, mandatory minimum sentencing requirements and the advisement of rights.

In one in five cases (20 percent), plea agreements were not signed by the prosecutor prior to the court accepting the defendant’s plea.

Reviewers were unable to locate a Judgment and Sentence Order (JSO) form or minute entry, as required by statute, in 40 percent of cases reviewed. And, when a JSO form was located, it had missing or incomplete information.

As far as mandatory minimum sentencing goes, the court did not complete the JSO in its entirety. More specifically, in 67 percent of the applicable cases reviewed the JSO did not indicate all terms of the sentence and in one case the JSO did not reflect any sentencing terms.

In 40 percent of the cases, the court sentenced the defendant to a jail term of one day instead of the required term.

In guilty/no contest pleas, the Guilty Plea Proceeding (GPP) form was missing advisements in 50 percent of cases reviewed, such as the range of possible sentence, the right to plead not guilty “and require the state to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The right to an attorney, “including appeal” and the right to a direct appeal was also missing in 50 percent of GPP forms reviewed.

In advising defendants of their rights, the AOC found the judge did not obtain the defendant’s name and address and instruct the defendant to notify the court of any change of address; ascertain the defendant’s plea; provide the defendant in writing of the date(s) set for further proceedings; advise of the right to counsel; and advise defendant of the right to remain silent.

The AOC noted the court did not have a victim’s rights statement posted prominently at the court, in accordance with state statute.

While the court had been making great strides toward coming into compliance with the AOC’s findings under Sefcovic's watch, it all became moot when the town recently voted to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with Carefree to consolidate their court operations under Carefree’s stewardship.

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