County Attorney LaWall refuses to participate in county’s highest level justice council

Pima County Justice Coordinating Council

For more than two years Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall has refused to participate in meetings of the Pima County Justice Coordinating Council (JCC).

Founded in 2006 and reestablished in 2014, the County Administrator created the JCC to serve as a policy level forum for discussing the operations of the Pima County criminal justice system, and addressing systemic issues of mutual concern to Pima County’s many law and justice agencies.

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-4-07-55-pm

memorandum creating the Pima County Justice Coordinating Council

To these achieve these ends the voting membership of the JCC was originally limited to only 6 top officials, who largely dictate how the Pima County criminal justice system operates.

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-4-11-47-pm

The Pima Liberator has collected and reviewed the minutes of the 16 meetings of the JCC held since the Council’s reestablishment in July 2014. These minutes prove that Barbara LaWall, elected Pima County Attorney since 1997, has never attended a single meeting of the JCC.

Pima County Justice Coordinating Council meetings
June 24, 2014 – County Attorney absent
August 28, 2014 – County Attorney absent
September 25, 2014 – County Attorney absent
October 23, 2014 – County Attorney absent
December 4, 2014 – County Attorney absent
January 22, 2015 – County Attorney absent
March 26, 2015 – County Attorney absent
June 11, 2015 – County Attorney absent
September 10, 2015 – County Attorney absent
November 12, 2015 – County Attorney absent
January 28, 2016 – County Attorney absent
March 24, 2016 – County Attorney absent
May 26, 2016 – County Attorney absent
July 28, 2016 – County Attorney absent
October 13, 2016 – County Attorney absent
January 25, 2017 – County Attorney absent

It is important to emphasize that the County Administrator envisioned the JCC as a mechanism top County officials could utilize to make the justice system more fair, efficient, cost-effective and accountable to the taxpayers.

The Liberator attended the most recent JCC meeting, held on January 25. Among the 31 senior justice system stakeholders present were: Chair of the Pima County Board of Supervisors Sharon Bronson, Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, Pima County Public Defense Services Director Lori Lefferts, Tucson City Court Presiding Magistrate Judge Tony Riojas, Pima County Public Defender Steve Sonnenberg, Pima County Legal Defender Dean Brault, and Pretrial Services Director Domingo Corona. The group discussed the progress that a number of departments and courts are making on criminal justice reform, including holding a 6th weekend warrant resolution court that quashed 600+ warrants and helped over 1,000 local residents, expanding the Pima County Sheriff’s home detention program, which has a 97% success rate and has saved the county $450,000, and replicating the success of the Tucson City Mental Health Court, which has become a state-wide model of restorative justice for defendants with mental illness. Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, absent from this meeting like she has been from every other  JCC meeting, choose not to participate in any of these discussions.

It is true that elected officials have demanding jobs, which often require their attention in multiple places simultaneously. But missing every single meeting of our justice system’s highest-level policy body is more than a simple scheduling conflict. Because the County Attorney has tremendous power and statutory discretion to drive rates of indictment, imprisonment, and incarceration, any meaningful criminal justice reform proposal requires Ms. LaWall’s personal buy-in and cooperation. Ms. LaWall’s perfect record of absenteeism from the JCC demonstrates that she has little interest in how other stakeholders in the justice system believe it can be improved, and little drive to cooperate with those stakeholders to make our system more fair and cost-effective.

– Joel Feinman