ABOTA American Board of Trial Advocates logoWe received word this month about a newly named “Judge of the Year,” an honor bestowed by the Phoenix Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). The 2013 Judge of the Year is Judge A. Craig Blakey II.

(I wrote about last year’s honoree here.)

Congratulations to Judge Blakey, who serves on the Superior Court for Maricopa County. He received the award at a dinner on December 6, and he was recognized for his “integrity, dedication and professionalism.”

According to the court: “Judge Blakey, who was appointed in 2002, is currently assigned to Juvenile Court. He previously served on civil, family and criminal court calendars. He earned his Juris Doctorate from California Western School of Law in 1979 and his Bachelor of Science in American Studies from Northern Arizona University in 1975.”

ABOTA’s mission includes promoting the efficient administration of justice and constant improvement of the law.

Hon. Rosa Mroz, in the February 2005 Arizona Attorney Magazine

Hon. Rosa Mroz, in the February 2005 Arizona Attorney Magazine

There has been ample coverage of the probate court in Maricopa County over the past few years. That’s why good news—and equal time—require that we note a national honor that has come to that court.

This week, the National Association of Court Management awarded Maricopa County Superior Court’s Probate Court with the 2013 Justice Achievement Award. According to a Superior Court news release, the award recognizes comprehensive reform efforts of judicial officers, administrators and court staff over the last three years.

Congratulations to all involved, and especially to Probate Presiding Judge Rosa Mroz (whom we profiled here in Arizona Attorney Magazine).

Here is the court’s news release:

After three years of comprehensive reform, Maricopa County Superior Court’s Probate Court has positioned itself as one of the top probate courts in the Nation.

The National Association of Court Management (NACM), the largest organization of court management professionals in the world, awarded Superior Court’s Probate Court with the 2013 Justice Achievement Award.

Superior Court Presiding Judge Norman Davis said, “It is clear that over the past few years the Maricopa County Probate Court has experienced significant reform and innovation under the able leadership of Probate Presiding Judge Rosa Mroz.  The process of improvement is by its nature perpetual, and the Maricopa County Superior Court has always, and will continue to, strive for excellence in providing the public with the best judicial system possible. My sincere thanks to all who were – and are – involved in the Probate Court system improvements and other reform initiatives.”

The award recognizes the tremendous efforts made by the judicial officers, administrators and court staff that helped transform Probate Court. During the last three years, Probate Court developed a new case management protocol with case differentiation, expanded use of ADR, created a new accountability court, improved communication and information flow between administrative oversight personnel and judicial officers and implemented public education programs and videos.

“The reform and innovations made by the Probate Court could not have happened without the support and dedication of everyone in the department.  They not only implemented these changes, they embraced it.  The common goal of everyone who works in the Probate Court is to serve and protect people unable to care for themselves.  The Probate Court will continue to examine itself and make improvements in furtherance of that goal,” Probate Presiding Judge Rosa Mroz.

The Court will accept the award at the NACM Annual Conference on July 15.

The Justice Achievement Award was established in 1988 to recognize outstanding achievement and meritorious projects that enhance the administration of justice.

In 2010, Superior Court received a Justice Achievement Award for the re-design of its CASA website.

National Adoption Day 2012 Phoenix paper chain

Volunteers, judges and court staff hold a vinyl chain that represents every child adopted on National Adoption Day. Each link has a child’s name written on it. The chain is 12 years old and contains more than 2,000 names. (Photo: Maricopa County Superior Court)

This coming Saturday, November 17, is on track to be another historic event. That’s when the state and nation celebrate National Adoption Day. Once again, Arizona is predicted to have a remarkable day.

I wrote about Adoption Day back in 2008, and the commitment of so many people continues to amaze me.

A scene from National Adoption Day 2008

A scene from National Adoption Day 2008

Unlike the confidentiality that is necessary in almost all juvenile and adoption cases, National Adoption Day is open to the public. So if you’d like to enjoy watching the creation of hundreds of families, stop by the Juvenile Court Center, 3131 West Durango, Phoenix. It is the most fun you will ever have in a courthouse—guaranteed.

And to learn more, here is a video made by the talented folks at the Superior Court for Maricopa County.

Restored cell, Maricopa County Courthouse

former jail cellblock may not sound like the most promising venue for an education center. But a place that had taught a wealth of lessons based on hard knocks got a new lease on life May 31.

That’s the day that the Justice Museum and Learning Center opened in the old Maricopa County Court building. As the court reports:

“The project features a restored cellblock located on the sixth floor of Maricopa County’s historic old courthouse. This project is the result of the hard work of many judicial officers, attorneys, court administrators and community partners. In 2010, Maricopa County Museum and Justice Learning Center Foundation was formed to oversee the construction and opening of the Museum. Through the efforts of the Foundation, more than $100,000 was raised to fund construction and renovation costs. Also, American Express made a generous $50,000 corporate donation.”

I’m especially pleased to see the transformation. Years ago, I accompanied our photographer and author—my former colleague Leslie Ross—as she shot the top floor of the courthouse. We had a week to do that, before the vintage jail cells were ripped out for a planned office suite. I’m happy to see that some of the vintage cells survived to educate another day.

You can see our Arizona Attorney Magazine story from 2002 here.

And here are some photos from the May 31 ribbon-cutting, courtesy of the Superior Court.

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Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery

Last week, I reposted a video created by the Maricopa County Superior Court. It highlighted a terrific event: the one-year anniversary of a court dedicated to veterans issues.

You can view that video at the bottom of this post.

But on Memorial Day, I was pleased to come across another MCSC video from February. It featured the activities surrounding the recent Arizona StandDown. At the event, veterans who have a variety of legal issues are able to have them addressed and resolved, all in a setting that is less intimidating than a courthouse visit.

Here is the video.

And as we watch the next video, regarding the Veterans Court one-year anniversary, it’s hard not to consider the Memorial Day that slipped by yesterday. How heartening it is to see so many members of the legal profession stepping up to create solutions to help those who have served.

Last fall, the Arizona Superior Court for Maricopa County heeded the longtime plea of lawyers when they created an express line for attorneys.

The court recognized the frustration of those bar members who must enter the courthouse often, sometimes more than once a day. To ensure that they’re never late for a trial or calendar call, those lawyers have always had to arrive super-early, just in case there’s a slow-moving line at security.

In October, the new lawyer line was created. But the court personnel have noted that the entrance is used less than they would have expected.

This week, the court issued is a reminder of this great new feature:

Superior Court’s Attorney Express Line

In order to alleviate lawyers waiting in long lines to enter the courthouse with members of the public, Maricopa County Superior Court has designated the First Avenue entrance of the East Court Building for attorneys only.

Once lawyers enter through the new Attorney Express Line, they simply show their State Bar of Arizona membership card and proceed through screening.

“We want everyone to get to court on time,” Security Director Edward DeCoste said. “The new entrance also enhances public safety by eliminating any potential confrontations between attorneys and members of the public.”

Attorneys still may enter through the other existing entrances but they are encouraged to utilize the Attorney Express Line.

“I think it works great,” said Bruce L. Bauman, a family and bankruptcy law attorney. “In the past, I was cutting my court appearances close. The new line is faster and much more convenient. I hope the court continues to make it available.”

Follow the Superior Court on Facebook and Twitter.

Hon. Sandra Day O'Connor

Yesterday, I shared some photos of a great Centennial event. Today, I have a few more, from another historic gathering.

Last Tuesday, the Superior Court for Maricopa County dedicated its new Court Tower. Few government buildings have risen amidst more controversy. Ultimately, though, the structure was completed on time, with no debt, and with an enviable construction-safety record. The dedication ceremony included remarks from retired Associate Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

You may read more about the building here. And to learn even more about the building and its unique features, watch the video created by court staff.

Below are some of my photos from the event.

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Amidst the hubbub of a day marking Arizona’s 100th birthday, a courthouse event may escape your attention.

I reported last November about the opening of the new South Tower of the Maricopa County Superior Court. The demands placed on a writer by the need for punchy headlines made me inscribe “Court Tower Opens.” Of course, that was only partially true.

On Friday, November 11, the courthouse was, indeed, open—for a dedication ceremony. That is when the judges and administrators took possession of the building Certificate of Occupancy. It was a nice occasion.

Today, however, the South Tower is officially open for business. Public tours run from 9:00 a.m. and throughout the day, and the official official official ceremony occurs at 3:00 p.m.

Much to my pleasant surprise, the terrific communications folks at the court have put together a video that describes some of the unique building’s most noteworthy features. The court’s multimedia journalist Kelly Vail and ASU intern Liz Kotalik produced the video called (appropriately) “Quick Tour of the New South Court Tower.”

And as I pointed out before, the Tower has its own web page.

Take a look and try to come on down. I may see you there.

We received some good news yesterday about a Superior Court Judge.

Judge Douglas Rayes, Presiding Judge of the criminal court for Maricopa County, has been named the 2011 Judge of the Year by the American Board of Trial Advocates (Phoenix Chapter).

Hon. Douglas Rayes (left) receives the award from ABOTA member Patrick J. McGroder III.

The award recognizes Judge Rayes’ integrity, dedication and professionalism. It was presented by Gallagher & Kennedy partner Patrick J. McGroder III. (Judge Rayes was a partner of Pat McGroder at McGroder, Tryon, Heller & Rayes from 1982 to 1989.)

Judge Rayes was appointed to the bench in 2000. During his tenure, he has presided over criminal, civil, complex civil, family and special assignment calendars. Currently, he is the Presiding Judge of the criminal court.

According to ABOTA, its mission includes promoting the efficient administration of justice and constant improvement of the law.

More information on Judge Rayes is here.

Just the other day, I mentioned Judge Rayes and some of his co-authors; they wrote a great cover story for Arizona Attorney on recent developments in the capital case crisis.

Hoofin' it in chambers

Finally (to repay those who read all the way to the bottom): Especially observant readers may have gazed at the photo above and spotted the jar of Hormel pigs feet, just over Judge Rayes’ right shoulder (right next to the Criminal and Traffic Law Manual). I was curious how such a delicacy could have made its way to the chambers of such a distinguished judge, so I asked the Judge about it. Here’s the jar’s history, in his words:

“Good eye on the pig’s feet. When [then-Presiding] Judge [Barbara] Mundell announced the new department presiding judges, she gave each of us a gift. As I was replacing Judge Donahoe, who had had a tough time in the slot, I think she gave me the pigs feet as a humorous way to thank me for taking the job.”

(A “tough time” may be an understatement. I wrote before about Judge Gary Donahoe and Maricopa County here.)

Wonderful—pork-barrel justice (of the admirable variety)!

Have a great weekend.

Commissioner Wendy Morton

I share here a great achievement that has come the way of Wendy Morton, Editorial Board chair of Arizona Attorney Magazine. The following release comes from the Arizona Superior Court for Maricopa County:

Wendy S. Morton, former City of Phoenix Judicial Officer and nationally award-winning author, has been hired by Presiding Judge Norman Davis to serve as a Superior Court Commissioner.

Commissioner Morton, who most recently served as a Judicial Officer with Phoenix Municipal Court, has a rich law and mass communications background.

Prior to joining the City of Phoenix, Commissioner Morton served four years as a City of Scottsdale Judge and four years as an Administrative Law Judge for the Arizona Office of Administrative Hearings. Commissioner Morton also served as a consultant for the Supreme Count of Arizona, Administrative Office of the Courts.

Prior to her judicial career, she worked nine years as a deputy county attorney in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and one year as a special deputy county attorney for Pinal County.

While working on her legal career, Commissioner Morton continued to work in the field of mass communications. She serves as the Chair of the Arizona Attorney Editorial Board. In 2010, she produced and directed a documentary series for the Arizona Supreme Court entitled Legends of the Arizona Judiciary. She also is the author and illustrator of two books: Court Story, a nationally award-winning bi-lingual coloring book that teaches children about the court system and Flipper and Dipper and the Treasures of 6 Bird published by Syracuse University Press. The proceeds from Flipper and Dipper and the Treasures of 6 Bird are donated to the Syracuse University Archives to preserve the memory of her classmates lost aboard Pan Am flight 103 in 1988.

Commissioner Morton earned her Juris Doctorate from Widener University School of Law, and she has a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Syracuse University in Political Science and Broadcast Journalism.

In 2009, Commissioner Morton received the State Bar of Arizona’s Award for Judicial Excellence.

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