Sources: Phoenix KJZZ News Radio; Arizona Republic
The long awaited Maricopa County Superior Court South Court Tower in downtown Phoenix is now open, having held its grand opening on the day of Arizona’s centennial celebration – February 14, 2012. The new tower is located south of the main courthouse on Jefferson, with a skywalk connecting the two courthouses. The downtown Superior Court has been bursting at the seams for several years, as many criminal court judges have been relocated from the Maricopa County South East Regional Court Facility 20 miles away in Mesa to the downtown courthouse in the past couple of years; the result of a policy decision some years ago to try all felony criminal cases in Phoenix next to a new jail built by the County. Centralizing criminal cases saves millions of dollars in prisoner transportation costs.
The new 16-story South Court Tower currently has 22 courtrooms, houses a jury assembly area, criminal case processing offices of the Clerk of Court, Grand Jury facilities, offices of the County Attorney, Public Defender and Probation Department, as well as fast-acting, front-end felony early disposition and plea courts.
The $340 million dollar structure has high-tech courtrooms and provides prisoner holding capacity for hundreds of in-custody defendants. It was built during the height of the recession generating a good deal of political controversy as county funded agencies cut staff and programs. Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas accused county supervisors and judges of misspending county money and conspiring to weaken their offices for political gain by diverting county money to construction budgets. Thomas, aided by the Sheriff, brought criminal charges against some officials as a result.
Thomas eventually turned his attention elsewhere by resigning as County Attorney and campaigning unsuccessfully for state Attorney General in late 2011. Subsequently, he was investigated for prosecutorial misconduct. An out-of-county judge concluded an abuse of power on the part of both the Sheriff and County Attorney. All indictments were dismissed. Thomas, and a chief lieutenant, Lisa Aubucheon, have been disbarred and the Sheriff’s Office remains under investigation by a Federal Grand Jury. Civil lawsuits filed by some county officials and judges have resulted in settlements and damage awards.
Now most people are talking about a new beginning. Reporter Al Macias of Phoenix KJZZ News Radio interviewed Sheriff Joe Arpaio at the February 14 building dedication. The Sheriff had a different tone.
Arpaio: I think this [the Criminal Court Tower] is a good touch for a beautiful new building.
Reporter: Do you still think this is a symbol of corruption?
Arpaio: Who said that?
Reporter: You did, two years ago.
Arpaio: That was yesterday, today is today.