High-profile races for governor and attorney general are grabbing the headlines, but lesser-known contests for East Valley justices of the peace and constables may have a greater impact on voters’ lives.
“They’re hugely important,” says John Kennedy, board president of the Arizona Justice of the Peace Association. “In fact, if a member of the public comes in contact with the justice system, it probably will be in a justice court, or a municipal court.”
Civil and criminal traffic cases, evictions, orders of protection, injunctions of harassment, small-claims suits, civil cases that involve $10,000 or less — all are handled by justice courts.
And while superior court judges are required by law to have legal training and be a member of the Arizona Bar Association, the only requirement a justice of the peace needs to meet is that he or she be at least 18 years old, speak English, and be resident of the court’s precinct.
The position pays well, up to $101,483, depending on a justice’s caseload, and a justice who stays on the bench for 20 years is eligible to receive 80 percent of his salary in retirement, according to JP court administrator Terry Stewart.
The term “constable” may evoke images of Old West lawmen, but they actually play an important role in the JP system.
Constables are the elected officials who carry out the duties of the justice court, serving the orders of protection or eviction, issuing subpoenas and summonses, and exercising limited powers of arrest. Anyone who is 18 or older, has no felony convictions, is registered to vote and lives in the precinct is eligible to run for constable.
No police experience is necessary, although they sometimes work with a deputy constable, who is appointed and who must be a police officer. A constable earns $48,284 after a first election, $55,000 if he is re-elected once, and $61,000 if elected to a third term, according to David Alster, administrator to the constables.
Five precincts in the East Valley have JP and constable candidates running in the Aug. 24 primary election, although a few incumbents are running unopposed. JPs and constables serve four-year terms.
Every election year, Kennedy says he hears talk about how Arizona should raise the minimum standards for JPs, And while he says there are cases where a justice does not perform his duties properly, he believes the system adequately weeds out poor performers.
He says voters can check incumbents’ records at the Arizona State Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics, even though that commission only makes public complaints that result in a formal sanction.
Many complaints never make it that far, says commission administrator Keith Stott. Right now, he said no East Valley incumbent running for re-election or who has served in the past has a formal sanction in his or her file.
The Constable Ethics Standards and Training Board, which investigates complaints about constables, has issued formal citations to only one of the incumbent candidates, Kyrene Constable Jon Levenson, The board cited him five times, once for failing to deliver an order of protection. The letter says he was “negligent and irresponsible” and worked with “a lack of personal organization.”
The other citations were due to his failure to deliver summonses on time, and resulted in formal letters of complaint from Justice of the Peace Elizabeth Rogers, presiding Judge John Ore, and Deputy Court Manager Kristi Hopewell.
Levenson says he takes responsibility for not delivering the order of protection, but said the other complaints are due to a personality clash with Rogers and to bad information he received when being trained for his job by a former deputy constable.
He also said he struggled in his job when his mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, but that now is in remission.
According to the Maricopa County Recorder’s office and information from Stewart, candidates for justice of the peace in the East Valley are:
East Mesa District: Incumbent Republican Mark Chiles is running unopposed for his second, four-year term.
Kyrene District: Incumbent Democrat Elizabeth Rogers is running unopposed in the primary for a second, four-year term. Republicans facing off are Don Calender, who served as justice four years ago; William Enzweiler; and Michael Munoz.
San Marcos District: Incumbent Republican Keith Frankel is running unopposed in the primary for a second, four-year term. His Democratic opponent Michael Corey Chan also is unopposed in the primary.
University Lakes District: Current justice John Ore is retiring after 16 years. Seeking to replace him are Democratic challengers Meg Burton-Cahill and Kathy Hayden. Republican Charles Boles is unopposed in the primary. Independent Justice candidate Matt Nelson will not appear on a primary ballot, but will be on the general election ballot.
West Mesa District: Republican incumbent Clayton Hamblen is running for his sixth term against Republican Mark Anderson. Libertarian candidate Rachel Kielsky is running unopposed.
According to state records and Alster, challengers for constable are:
East Mesa District: Republican William Taylor is unopposed in the primary. There also is no Democratic challenger. He began serving as constable in 1990.
Kyrene District: Democratic incumbent Jon Levenson is unopposed in the primary. He has served one term. Republican Brandon Schmoll also is unopposed in the primary.
San Marcos District: Republican incumbent James Kevin Jones, who has served since 1998, faces Republican challenger Dale Presley.
University Lakes District: Republican incumbent Joe Arredondo is unopposed in the primary and will be in the general election. He has been constable since 1995.
West Mesa District: Republican incumbent Fred Arnett, who has served since 1999, is running against Republican challenger John Hastings.