GV Judge Ray Carroll to hold quarterly night court after 'great success' with test run
Green Valley Judge Ray Carroll plans to have a permanent night court once his justice precinct grows at the beginning of next year.
Carroll currently serves residents of Green Valley, Sahuarita, Corona de Tucson, Arivaca, Amado and Sasabe as Pima County's justice of the peace for precinct 7. But in January, the JP7 boundaries will grow — extending east of Vail to bring another 30,000 people into Carroll's constituency.
A test run of the night court last week was "a great success," Carroll said, as he and his court staff look for more ways to clear people's burdensome legal issues.
The Green Valley court house at 601 N. La Cañada Dr. is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during regular hours, but starting next spring, Carroll wants to extend those hours to 7 p.m. four times a year — once every quarter — to help clear a backlog of active warrants.
The elected judge and his court staff also started a travel court in September, driving to far-flung parts of JP7. Carroll said the travel court helped close only a handful of cases but did "put people back on track."
The travel and night courts are meant to give more people a chance to "restart their lives," Carroll said.
The night court program is meant to give people the chance to come to the court after typical working hours, while the traveling court is meant to reach people living far from Green Valley, Carroll said, especially in the Vail and Colossal Cave area that's being added to the precinct.
"These warrants can stand in the way of people getting a job and getting their life back on track," Carroll said. "Nothing is possible without the dignity of work and some people are past the point of trying anymore."
During last week's night court a few people cleared their warrants — one by showing proof of a fishing license — or were put back on court-ordered payment plans, Carroll said. One person was able to get an order of protection during the extended hours.
The court saw "about half a dozen folks," which was "as many cases in those two hours (5 p.m. - 7 p.m.) as we have on any good morning," Carroll said.
The objective is to "restore faith in the court," Carroll said, so that people trust court ordered programs and follow through. "
The Green Valley court wants "COVID to be the reset allowance," Carroll said, and assume that people haven't had the chance to take care of any outstanding warrants or other legal issues because of the limits of the pandemic.
"COVID left the justice system with a gaping hole," Carroll said. "I'm just trying to fill in my part of that hole with a net and try to catch people before their problems get worse."
Carroll told the Sentinel that he's worried about the "isolation" that his constituents have experienced since COVID. He calls alcohol abuse the most "pernicious" and "threatening" problem in the community.
"Alcohol is a huge problem in Green Valley," Carroll said. "It's making things a lot worse than they already were with COVID, the pressure of the housing market, instability, in combination over the last three years."
Alcohol tends to contribute towards domestic violence or driving under the influence charges, Carroll said, and people with those charges are "the least compliant" to court-ordered resolutions as they often "give up on counseling" or "catch another charge." Exactly 100 of the court's cases last year were DUIs while this year the court has already had 130 DUIs.
The court had about 630 outstanding warrants at the beginning of August and now has about 570 left to resolve by getting people to come and talk to Carroll or other court staff. Last year, the Green Valley court processed about 3,200 cases, while so far this year the court has processed about 2,600. Carroll expects his court to have "the same number of cases this year that they had last year."
Next year, when JP7 grows, the court is expected to need more staff, and Carroll said he's already getting a clerk position open because the court expects the "caseload to increase considerably." Evictions in particular are expected to increase in the next year, he said.
Carroll has been a Green Valley justice of the peace since 2017, and he's currently up for election for another four-year term although he's running unopposed.
Carroll represented much of his current precinct during his 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.
"I still have a lot of energy and gas in the tank," Carroll, 60, said. "And I hope that whatever brings me to the conclusion of my time in Pima County I can look back on it and say that I added value and didn't waste any time or effort."
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.