For the past eight and a half years, Division 1 of the Coconino County Superior Court has been under the instruction of Judge Jacqueline Hatch.
For those years, she sat and read through case files from her chambers tucked away on the corner of the second floor of the courthouse. From the bench, she sat and listened to the trials and tribulations of the county.
At the end of the year, she will step out of her courtroom for the last time as its judge.
“I just really appreciate the opportunity to serve as a judge for this county for 8 and a half years,” Hatch said. “I love Flagstaff. I love the whole area.”
Hatch also worked as a public defender for 20 years, leaving her with 30 years of work in Coconino courtrooms. Hatch said she was born in McNary, Arizona, which is in the White Mountain area. She explained that her grandfathers were smiths, and helped found the city of Snowflake and have been in the area for generations.
On her time as a judge, she said she attempted to be as impartial as possible, and found herself appreciating the histories and perspectives of the people she entered into the court record.
When she leaves, she plans to record the story of her own family and her own life.
“I’m the oldest in my family,” Hatch said. “I have all the stories. I have all the pictures. I’m going to be spending a good deal of time putting that together and spending time with my family.”
Hatch said that she has enjoyed helping people gain closure from traumatic events, and hopes she has made an impact. Hatch did a lot of work in recovery court as her most recent specialty court assignment. Recovery court is voluntary and allows defendants to submit to a substances abuse treatment program that is supervised by the court. The option is available for people with a high need for treatment and a “high risk” of failure.
“It’s heartbreaking to see so many people hurt,” Hatch said. “It’s heartbreaking to see how many people have had so many challenges in their lives because of their decisions about drugs and alcohol.”
After seeing thousands of cases, Hatch said that people never ceased to surprise her. She explained that she couldn’t speak about any specific case, but did talk about one that inspired her where a woman was being assaulted at a local truck stop, and a bystander stepped up to stop it.
“I’m really impressed about how people don’t want to get involved, but sometimes they just feel like they have to, and it can make all the difference,” Hatch said.
Despite her position, she admitted that many times she learned more from defendants than they might have learned from her.
“There was one gentleman who told me he didn’t like the way I talked to them and felt like I was putting everybody down in the courtroom,” Hatch said. “That just clicked in my head. It was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had. If that’s how I’m coming off, then I need to change my approach.”
Presiding Judge Mark Moran said that Hatch worked hard for the county and will be missed.
“She was a great colleague, hard worker and a team player,” Moran said. “She helped out whenever was needed.”
While Hatch has not had the most high-profile cases throughout her tenure, she has been in the spotlight more than most, due to her comments from the bench in one case in 2012. The comment was considered victim blaming, and she was widely criticized after her words went viral.
She apologized for the comment soon afterward. On the question of legacy, she indicated that much of that was out of her reach.
“There’s so many judges, and time goes by so quickly. I don’t know that I will necessarily be remembered,” Hatch said. “If I had my choice how I hope to be remembered, it would be that I returned and I did the very best I could.”
Judge Ted Reed will take over her division after being sworn in on Jan. 4. She didn’t have any tips for Reed, expecting he will have a lot of time to make a mark on the county.
“He would probably have tips for me. He’s a smart guy,” Hatch said. “I think he will do an excellent job.”