Honarable John Napper, Presiding Judge
C. Rolf Eckel, Court Administrator
120 South Cortez Street
Prescott, AZ 86303
We continue to work toward Chief Justice Robert M. Brutinel’s 5-year strategic agenda, Justice for the Future. We are beginning the third year of his strategic goals, which are the mission statement for all the courts in Arizona.
The Arizona Superior Court in Yavapai County is dedicated to the fair, prompt and impartial adjudication of matters set before the Court.
The Superior Court in Yavapai County is the trial court of general jurisdiction for the State of Arizona. There are three Superior Court locations, two in Prescott and the other in Camp Verde. These court locations serve twenty-seven separate communities in Yavapai County. Superior Court judges hear cases ranging from civil suits, contracts, real property rights (regarding amounts over $10,000), domestic relations, probate/guardianships, mental health, criminal (all felonies and some misdemeanors), small claims and misdemeanor appeals, dependency, and juvenile cases.
The Judicial Branch of Arizona in Yavapai County is part of the Arizona State Judiciary. It is comprised of Superior Court, Adult Probation and Juvenile Probation, which includes juvenile detention. The Yavapai County Superior Court has ten judicial officers including seven who are elected, two pro tem judges who are hired by the Court, and one family law commissioner. The seven elected Superior Court judges in Yavapai County are elected for four-year terms.
In addition to the ten judges mentioned above, there are six seasonal or part-time pro-tem judges hired by the Court. All judicial officers are supported by more than 300 professional staff members serving across the local justice system, from judicial assistants to juvenile detention officers and probation officers.
The Yavapai County Superior Court also has administrative oversight of five justice of the peace courts and nine municipal/magistrate courts. This administrative oversight includes common budgeting, security coordination, facility design and construction, and judicial branch personnel matters.
The Superior Court in Yavapai County is innovative and progressive. It boasts programs designed to serve the community including three specialty courts: DUI/Drug Court, Mental Health Court, and Veterans Court. Additionally, the Superior Court recently created the Family Law Navigator, Project Manager-Court Liaison, and Housing Stability Court Navigator positions to better serve the community.
The Yavapai County Superior Mental Health Court started in October 2013. The purpose of the court is to support participants (seriously mentally ill probation clients) in achieving stability and crime free lives. Participants have a mental health diagnosis and are struggling with probation term compliance related to persistent medication non-compliance, new arrests related to medication non-compliance, lack of engagement in treatment, and/or continued illegal substance use.
The Yavapai County Superior DUI/Drug Court program is an alternative to regular criminal probation. The Drug Court consists of a judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, probation officer, and a treatment provider who collaborate to design appropriate treatment and counseling, as well as incentives and sanctions to reduce the offender’s dependency on illicit drugs and recidivism. Individuals now on probation are given opportunities to utilize drug treatment services such as counseling and education. Offenders must also abide by certain rules, such as abstaining from drugs and alcohol, regular drug testing, treatment, education, and counseling. If an offender successfully completes the program, in some circumstances the conviction is reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.
The Yavapai County Superior Veterans Court is a collaborative process that includes the prosecutor, defense counsel, judge, and occasionally the federal or local state's Department of Veteran Affairs and other community-based support organizations. The goal of Veterans Court is to rehabilitate and restore veterans as active, contributing members of their community. This court focuses on veterans who are currently in the criminal justice system. The Court creates and supervises treatment plans to address the underlying causes of the veteran's behavior and/or substance abuse issues.
The Yavapai County Superior Court Family Law Navigator and Self-Help Center aids self-represented litigants in reaching a swift resolution in their domestic relations cases. Approximately 80 percent of litigants involved in domestic relations cases in Yavapai County are self-represented and cannot afford an attorney but are held to the same standards as an attorney when appearing before a judge. Therefore, the Family Law Navigator is essential to assist court customers in navigating through the court process by explaining the different ways a family law case can proceed in the Superior Court, to review family law forms ensuring they are complete before filed, and to provide procedural information about next steps.
The Yavapai County Superior Court Project Manager-Court Liaison assists in assuring compliance with court ordered treatment for Title 36 (mental incapacity) and Rule 11 (mental competency) cases. This is accomplished through follow-up with defendants, treatment providers, and court staff. The Project Manager also locates and identifies litigants with multiple cases or case types and works to coordinate the cases. This ensures that all involved judges are aware of this defendant and conflicting orders are avoided. Litigants re-entering the system also are evaluated for previous contacts with the court and assigned to the same division as appropriate. Lastly, the Project Manager oversees creation, implementation, and revision of the Yavapai County Superior Court strategic plan.
The Yavapai County Superior Court Housing Stability Court Navigator position is funded by DES through the Arizona Supreme Court. The Navigator interacts with landlords and tenants to assist with obtaining federal and local resources, including funding, to prevent evictions due to non-payment of rent while safeguarding landlord rights. Court customers with broad housing stability needs can obtain help with concerns regarding eligibility for emergency rental assistance funding and are provided with referrals to housing assistance resources. The Navigator can also assist vulnerable populations in treatment and specialty courts.
The pandemic had a significant impact on court operations. Jury trials were halted for several months. Our court did not allow courthouse entry if court customers were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or had been exposed to someone with COVID-19, but instead allowed everyone to appear via video or telephone. Our staff was sent home to work on a rotating basis when possible, but the court never closed our doors. Not all our courtrooms had video-conferencing capabilities for hearings or meetings, but we quickly installed new equipment and software to enable every courtroom to conduct remote proceedings. We quickly transitioned from voluminous in-person calendar days in which litigants and their attorneys stood shoulder-to-shoulder waiting for their case to be called to days in which not a single attorney or litigant occupied the halls or courtrooms.
In response to this unforeseen and unprecedented crisis, we implemented a new jury selection process that allowed prospective jurors to be excused for hardship before even coming to the courthouse. Our court security officers became health screeners as the first point of contact for those persons needing to enter our court facilities. We were able to track down extra laptops and computer cameras allowing judges and staff to work remotely. The court purchased Microsoft Teams licenses creating a means by which judges could conduct hearings by video. The court found ways to keep going. Each day we were forced to pivot, and problem solve.
Although challenging, we realize now that some positives have occurred due to the pandemic. For example, we learned that collaboration, communication, and innovation are keys to keeping the courts open and providing access to justice. We learned that establishing and maintaining positive relations with our justice partners and other local stakeholders allowed us to find ways to provide services to the community in ways we never thought possible. The lessons we learned from having to adapt to never-ending changes resulting from COVID-19 will benefit us greatly as we plan for the future of our courts.
Our goal is to continue to build and maintain those relationships with our justice partners and stakeholders to collaborate on ideas that will ensure effective and efficient delivery of services to our community. We have started development of a five-year strategic plan that will guide us in determining which business practices implemented during the pandemic to keep, as well as identifying new and creative practices to reach the future goals of the Superior Court in Yavapai County.