Wrong turn on DUI courts
With all the crime and legal challenges Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas faces in his job, it is both curious and disappointing that he is directing so much firepower at a nationally recognized rehabilitation and probation program.
With an apparent eye to capturing headlines, Thomas has taken aim at a highly successful program run by the Maricopa County Superior Court and its chief presiding officer, Judge Barbara Rodriguez Mundell.
Thomas has called on Mundell to abolish the Spanish-speaking version of the program and one set up for Native Americans. He has threatened a lawsuit to abolish them.
That's just what we need: a costly lawsuit pitting the County Attorney's Office against the Superior Court, one of the most admired court systems in the country.
Here's some background and why Thomas is wrong on this issue:
The program under fire is called "DUI courts," but that's a misnomer, one that Thomas and his staff should recognize. This is a post-conviction, post-sentence probation and rehabilitation program.
More precisely, it's an administrative process to monitor people convicted of repeat or serious drunken-driving charges. The purpose: to reduce repeat DUIs through regular contact and progressive penalties.
The Maricopa County program was established through a federal grant in 1998. These specialty "courts" are empowered, by the original sentencing judge, to place additional requirements on the offenders.
The DUI felons could be required to undergo counseling, wear ankle bracelets or attend Alcoholics Anonymous sessions.
The Spanish-speaking version of the program was established in 2002. Here's why: In the early years, the mainstream DUI court was not working so well for Spanish speakers, who really didn't know what was going