GV Judge Carroll taking court on the road to clear warrants, deal with rural cases
People unable to make it to Green Valley to resolve legal issues can find help at traveling court hearings
Green Valley Judge Ray Carroll will be holding court in several areas across his far-flung precinct starting this week, including temporary "traveling court" set-ups in Vail, Corona de Tucson and Arivaca.
People with outstanding arrest warrants or other legal issues that must be resolved in Green Valley Justice Court may be able to avoid a trip to the regular courtroom, as Carroll begins visiting other areas of Justice Precinct 7, which will stretch from Sasabe to east of Vail with the elimination of another precinct.
Carroll, a Green Valley justice of the peace since 2017, is trying to reach more than 30,000 new constituents around Vail. The JP 7 boundaries will be extended at the end of the year to include an area north of Vail after the Pima County Board of Supervisors eliminated Justice Precinct 5 in and around Tucson’s East Side.
The JP 7 boundaries are growing to the eastern edge of the Pima County, which goes about 20 miles east of Vail, and will reach a few miles northeast of Interstate 10 to include Vail and Colossal Cave.
The traveling court will first show up in Corona de Tucson on Monday at the American Legion, 15921 S. Houghton Rd., from 2-5 p.m.
The second stop will be in the Arivaca the following week, on Sept. 19, with Carroll setting up inside the 143-year-old historic schoolhouse, 17180 W. 4th St., from 3-6 p.m.
The next stop after that will be in Vail in January, Carroll said. He plans to make four or five of these trips per year, he said, and continue them as long as he can. Carroll wants this to be a permanent program and plans on stopping at the first two locations again at the same time next year.
The elected judge will be traveling along with court staff to each location and “will work with residents who have active warrants, need to re-establish a payment contract, would like to apply for a marriage license or have general questions for the court,” according to a press release from his court. Green Valley Justice Court's regular location is 601 N. La Cañada Dr.
People are encouraged to bring their ID and any court papers they may have. Walk-ins are welcomed.
'An overdue program'
More than 600 warrants built up during the COVID-19 pandemic in the offices of the Green Valley court, Carroll said, describing a “filing room” overloaded with court orders, such as to pay fines or appear before a judge, that people “might hope have gone away by now.”
“We just can’t do that. We have to bring (people) out to show why they didn’t comply with the court order,” he said. “Even if I weren’t the judge — which really kind of irks me — I’m enforcing stuff for judges before me who just put them in a filing cabinet,” he said.
People should also understand that they won’t be arrested if they show up to resolve their outstanding warrants at the traveling court, Carroll said.
“I give my word,” he said. “I trust the people and that they’re going to come forward knowing that I’m trustworthy,” he said.
Outstanding warrants can ruin a person’s chance at stable employment, housing and finances, Carrol said.
“People want to come out of COVID scot-free from all the things that have held them back for maybe even more than the last couple years,” he said, but they may “never get their driver’s license back because they’d be eaten up by the big fines and fees and interest rates of the state FARE program.”
The Fines/Fees and Restitution Enforcement, of FARE, law allows courts to hire collection agencies to pursue debts. The FARE program is “anything but fair,” Carroll said, playing with the name and saying that it makes the courts “poverty pimps.”
Carrol wants to restore some faith in his court as well, he said.
“All I’m trying to do is two things: change their opinion of this court and get them into compliance somehow with the orders that have been served, not just by me but by previous judges,” he said. “This is an overdue program.”
Carroll is trying to reach rural areas where people more often have trouble finding transportation, internet connectivity or time to travel to Green Valley to resolve court issues. However, he's also mulling making a regular trip parts of Southeast Tucson around Houghton Road and Mary Ann Cleveland Way.
"There's just a great concentration of people that live in that area. That's a mixed area right on the border of the city and the county," he said. "People got troubles all over the place. We're happy to help them with anything from marriage license to notary services."
A lot of the Green Valley court cases also involve people traveling through JP7, Carroll said, such as people caught on the highway for speeding. At the end of the day, Carroll expects to help more than just the people who live in his precinct, he said.
“There’s lots of people we’re covering with this,” Carroll said. “The goal is to have more than just the 600 that have active warrants. It’s also people behind on their payment plans, which could lead to a warrant, but we want to minimize the disruption in their lives.”
Resolving the 600 outstanding warrants is the priority, Carroll said, “but we could have people coming completely out of left field” in terms of the court services they need. Carroll is bringing along court staff to be prepared to solve any issues that people need to straighten out with court.
“They might have a warrant. They might have some information that we could help them unravel,” he said. “This is just another level of convenience for these folks. To see the court in action is something that’s been reassuring to them.”
He wants to “move people forward in their lives,” Carroll said. “I’m hoping it’s going to be very productive,” he said about the traveling court.
The point of the traveling court is "to get to know" Carroll's constituents, he said.
"We're bring staff to help them, not to threaten them with jail time or anything like that," he said. "I'm not looking for trouble. I'm trying to help them get rid of their trouble."
Bringing people out of the shadows
Carroll represented much of the area for 20 years as the Pima County supervisor for District 4, a seat now held by Steve Christy, the lone Republican on the county board. Carroll, also a Republican, was elected five times and served from 1997 to 2017. He said that the current supervisors will be at the traveling court events.
He left the board to “do something different” and now is trying to “improve” the court, including its facilities.
“During COVID, people were forced to live in the shadows and now I want to bring them back out,” Carroll said.
The county eliminated JP5 to even out a workload among the constables. Republican candidate for Justice Precinct 8 Bill Lake is the last constable for JP 5, after he was tapped last October to fill in for the retired Marge Cummings.
Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.