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Arizona prosecutor sues courts over Spanish-language sessions

Arizona prosecutor sues courts over Spanish-language sessions

Phoenix, March 1 (AP): A county attorney filed a lawsuit against the county court system, claiming its use of separate courts for drunken driving defendants who speak Spanish or American Indian languages is illegal.

Maricopa County attorney Andrew Thomas filed the suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in an effort to end what he called "race-based courts."

"This is a very serious matter that goes to the core of what our Constitution means, and whether we intend to still provide equal justice under the law," Thomas said. "The criminal justice system can't create racially segregated courts. Even at the height of Jim Crow and segregation, government didn't do that."

Presiding Superior Court Judge Barbara Rodriquez Mundell has defended the DUI courts, emphasizing that they were designed to reduce drunken-driving deaths and accidents by helping two large minority groups through alcohol recovery and education.

Mundell said the special courts do not conduct trials or issue sentences; they oversee post-conviction conduct of volunteer participants who are treated no differently from others attending similar sessions in the English-language program.

Thomas disagrees, saying judges in the courts make decisions on revoking probation and other criminal punishments. He also pointed to an analysis his office did that showed disparities in sentencing and other specifics between regular defendants and those having their cases heard in the special courts.

Mundell referred calls for comment to a private Phoenix attorney hired to represent the courts in the case. Attorney Scot Claus said he hadn't been served with the suit and would not comment anyway under a policy not to talk about ongoing litigation.

The special courts are funded in part by grants from the federal Health and Human Services Department.

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