Part of the punishment for many felons is providing restitution to their victims.
But somehow that part of probation was sometimes a low priority, until a judge from Ahwatukee Foothills and a victims' advocate got together and decided that the court had a carrot and a stick to make restitution as important in criminal cases as child support is in family court.
"It's a win-win for everybody," said Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Roland Steinle III.
Since implementing the restitution in court 18 months ago $200,000 has been collected for victims from the worst of the worst offenders.
For his efforts on behalf of victims, Steinle was recognized with the Arizona Attorney General's Distinguished Service Award April 19.
"What's unique about this is that the court holds offenders responsible and accountable after sentencing," said Dan Levey, who helped encourage Steinle to begin the restitution court.
"Victims in Arizona, under our constitution, have a right to swift restitution. Steinle uses the existing statutes to bring in those who willfully refuse (to pay) and give them 30 days to pay up," said Levey, who is the director of victim's services with the Attorney General's Office.
Often offenders quickly pay their restitution, even when it means selling vehicles or borrowing from friends and relatives.
Steinle said that some probationers transfer assets into the name of family members or even refuse to work, leaving victims victimized a second time. Others will pay their bills and maintain their own lifestyle by putting restitution at the bottom of the bill list each month.
Steinle noted that when he began there were people on probation who had not made a single payment in years. But by working with the Adult Probation Department, bringing in a handful each month, and putting them in jail if they didn't at least begin to make an effort, "miracles happen," Steinle said.
Quickly the word spread that restitution was as important as staying out of trouble and following the other terms and conditions of probation.
The restitution court, which Steinle is quick to point out is due to the hard work of many people and agencies, has attracted the attention of other judges in Maricopa County and across Arizona. Steinle spoke recently at a Washington D.C. seminar on the topic.
Not everyone was pleased with the concept.
Many defense attorneys were surprised when Steinle took the lead in punishing deadbeats who were behind in their payments, because before becoming a judge he was a well known and respected defense attorney himself.
It was Steinle who defended Jeremy Bach, who in 1995 shot his 13-year-old classmate, Brad Hansen, then hid the body in a city trash can in the most notorious Ahwatukee Foothills murder to date. Bach was 15 when a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder, making him the youngest Arizonan convicted as an adult at the time.
Steinle said it's no surprise, at least to him, that since he was a good defense attorney, he would be a good judge.
"I'm doing what you would expect a good judge to do. I'm very strict on the rules," he said.
An Ahwatukee Foothills resident since1988, Steinle was appointed to the bench in 2001 and since then has tackled some high-profile cases, including the serial shooter case.