A Democrat takes on an appointed incumbent Republican for the Coconino County Superior Court Division 1 judge position in the Nov. 2 general election.
Jacqueline Hatch, appointed by Gov. Jan Brewer to take over the job in June by a retiring Danna Hendrix is squaring off against full-time Pro Tem Justice of the Peace Cathleen Nichols.
According to information from the county, Superior Court judges make $145,000 a year, with half the money coming from the state and the other half coming from the county.
Coconino County Superior Court is a trial court, in which judges hear felony prosecutions such as murder, rape, aggravated assault, burglary, robbery and more. Judges also hear cases involving real property, civil claims that have a value of $10,000 or more, probate and divorce matters.
The court also includes juvenile matters such as dependency, delinquency or incorrigibility of youths younger than the age of 18. Judges also hear appeals in criminal matters from city and justice courts.
Hatch said she has 24 years of experience as an attorney behind her as the governor's appointment for judge of Division 1. And, to her knowledge, she is the first to come from the Public Defender's Office to sit on the bench. Most judges have come from the prosecutor side of the aisle or private law firms.
"I come from a little bit of a different perspective," Hatch said of her near exclusive defense of the indigent. Her experience has given her a perspective of empathy, which allows her to be patient and treat everybody with respect. Regardless, she added that a judge is bound by law and people should be responsible for their behavior and "punishment should fit the crime."
Her prior civil case work is limited. But, she said, having been on the bench for nearly five months, she has grown more comfortable with civil cases -- having had two civil trials since she took the bench -- and has the ears of the other judges and staff on which to rely.
"The one thing people want more than anything is to be heard," Hatch said. "And they should have that opportunity."
Her personal life has come to light during the campaign with recent letters sent to a large number of residents in Flagstaff. Hatch said the letter involves her daughter and a "visitation issue" with her grandson. The battle has been ongoing for more than three years, and she said the matter is a complex family issue best kept personal. She apologized to the recipients of the letter for having received it.
As for the allegation she used the services of a colleague at the Public Defender's Office on county time in connection with the battle with her daughter, the matter was determined not to have violated any laws. Hatch did say that her choice to use a colleague for help in the matter wasn't a good decision.
She also said that her personal battle has made her even more empathetic to family issues and has strengthened her in the process.
"You want to do the absolute best you can for people," Hatch said.
Having been a full-time Pro Tem Justice of the Peace for nearly six years, Nichols said that experience sets her above her competitor, who has only five months on the job.
"I think it's important because people can look at my record," Nichols added. She decided on her run for Superior Court on recommendation of other judges.
Her experience as a sitting judge helps with patience in explaining the criminal justice process to people appearing before her, she said. Court can be a daunting process.
Additionally, her background in law is more varied than Hatch, she said. In her early days of practicing law in San Diego, she worked mainly in civil litigation -- both with an established firm and on her own. And in the early 1990s, she fell in love with Flagstaff and moved here with her family to take a job as a prosecutor with the Coconino County Attorney's Office.
Experience in civil and criminal matters makes her a good fit for judge, Nichols said.
With regard to the letters circulating in the community about Hatch, Nichols said she is aware of them, but she will not comment further, referring the matter to her competitor to answer.
Even though her primary duties are in Flagstaff Justice Court, Nichols also is the back-up as the DUI/Drug Court judge when Judge Mark Moran is away. The court is devoted to helping non-violent drug and alcohol offenders find a way out of addiction and back into productive lives. The job, Nichols said, requires a creativity and more holistic approach to break the cycle of addiction.
As for her philosophy on being a judge, Nichols said that she is diligent about following the law based on the facts of a case.
She said she also walks the extra mile by lending her time and service to criminal justice organizations like the Domestic Violence Impact Panel and the state bar. Nichols added that she believes a balance between her personal and professional life is also key -- keeping family first and participating in organizations and clubs while helping her children with their scholastic and extra-curricular commitments.
Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get to know the candidates
Jacqueline Hatch: hatchforjudge.com
Cathleen Nichols: cnicholsforjudge.com