The past month has been two years in the making.
Twenty-four months of unprecedented change, loss, isolation, and the need for taking constant public health precautions.
The pandemic has affected each and every one of us and in every conceivable way that we live, work and interact with friends, coworkers, and our community.
March 2022 has offered some promise of recovery.
The lifting of Pima County’s mask mandate on March 11 heralded the most significant and eagerly awaited step toward normalcy since COVID-19 sent us scurrying from our normal lives in March 2020.
News that the mask mandate had been lifted was met with overdue joy and visible smiles here in the Pima County Legal Services Building, and it has been so wonderful to see smiling faces throughout the community.
Of course, there are many people who understandably choose to wear face coverings, and we all must be prepared for the possibility of new variants of the virus that could put us all back behind masks. I know here in The People’s Office and across Pima County, we will do whatever is necessary to put the threat of this pandemic behind us.
But we have taken a much-needed step forward.
A truly welcome benefit of the green light for in-person meetings is the upcoming resumption of our volunteer Community Justice Boards. These citizen-staffed panels work in communities throughout Pima County to help children, their families, and victims to find alternatives to incarceration and opportunity for a productive future.
This vital program, which has helped so many families, was shut down amid the pandemic, because virtual engagement proved insufficient for dealing with these deeply personal situations.
We are very excited to be ready to reach out to our current volunteers and recruit new ones to get these panels working again for our community.
This long-awaited month began for us with a visit from Beth Castro, the daughter of the late Raúl Castro, who began a remarkable career in public service right here in this office when he became the first Mexican American Pima County Attorney.
Beth gave me a wonderful memento of that time – before her father became Arizona’s governor and a three-time U.S. Ambassador to Latin America – his handcrafted fraternity board that he repurposed as a shingle to hang over his own law office in downtown Tucson.
It now graces the desk I gently use here, the desk that was once Senator Dennis DeConcini’s, and gives me a sense of connection to incredible legacy.
Another amazing benefit of being able to gather with more confidence has been yet more increase in our outreach efforts in the community. We have helped clean up litter in schoolyards and attended resource fairs, gun shows, and community events where we have handed out thousands of free gun locks that will keep the families of gun owners safer.
Getting out into the community helps to build relationships that foster greater understanding of what we hope to accomplish, while also making our community safer. It is central to the reforms this administration was elected to make.
Back on the legal front, trials are in full swing. In the last two months alone, our PCAO prosecutors secured convictions in one case where children had been harmed, four cases involving aggravated assault, and three cases where someone lost their life. Two rising star prosecutors also secured a guilty verdict and held a corrections’ officer accountable for striking a handcuffed inmate.
In the training arena, members of our senior leadership team had the opportunity to learn more about a significant reform of our trial process earlier this month when the law firm Snell & Wilmer hosted a training about ending the practice of peremptory strikes in jury selection. This reform honors a statement made by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall that dates back to 1986 in the famous Batson decision that peremptory strikes would forever allow for racism to infect jury selection. Arizona has become the first and only state to abolish the use of these arbitrary and too often race-based decisions about the make-up of juries, following the lead of Great Britain and Canada.
Another major reform we are tackling with our law enforcement and judicial partners is how we handle initial court appearances for those accused of crimes. We see too frequently cases of individuals paying low cash bond and set free despite concern they are a threat to the community and their alleged victims.
Meanwhile, people arrested for minor offenses who have shown no propensity for violence or other serious criminal activity are held on low cash bond they cannot afford to pay.
County Attorney Conover is ready to gear up her legislation to reform cash bond again this fall, working with local leaders in law enforcement and the courts to bring best practices to the crucial question of liberty itself.
The PCAO Community Newsletter is published and distributed monthly.