Justice After Hours

Maricopa County's Initial Appearance Court plods on through the wee hours

The judge brings that same informality to tonight's proceedings, treating each of the prisoners civilly, and making the process more personal by addressing most by their first names.

Still, there's little time for social niceties. Each of the sixty prisoners in this criminal-justice assembly line stands before him for less than two minutes. A few prisoners want to plead guilty and immediately get sentenced, but this is not a place to plead to anything.

"I don't expect to hear you tell me your life story here," LoBue warns the prisoners. "Let's just keep this show moving."

Like several other attorneys in town, LoBue holds down a number of different jobs within the criminal justice system to make a living. He's also a part-time municipal judge and spent Christmas morning running a court session. (See accompanying story.) For him, that means an unorthodox schedule and the ability to sleep whenever he can.

The unmarried jurist is quite used to it by now. "My neighbors think I'm weird, coming and going at all hours," he says, "but that's the way it goes. It helps to be single in this job. I have a lot of energy and that helps, too."

The first case he calls is that of Brenda, a haggard, middle-aged woman who's been arrested for failing to appear in court on earlier bad-check charges. Brenda knows the game, which includes at least feigning respect for the court. LoBue sets her bond at $137.

The second prisoner is a longhaired blond youth named Brian who's been busted for possession of marijuana. "You don't have an address?" LoBue asks Brian after rummaging through some paperwork. Brian shakes his head. Bond is set at $411.

"I will not be released because I have nowhere to go," the forlorn boy tells the judge. "Happy holidays."

"Same to you, Brian," LoBue replies.
Prisoners come and go so quickly in I.A. Court that their cases blur into each other. There's an enormously muscled Japanese guy with a tattoo of a human skull on one arm who's been arrested for several violent felonies; an accused burglar wearing a "Black by Popular Demand" sweat shirt; a tearful lady who claims she'd been a few minutes late for court and was arrested for failure to appear; and a fellow wanted in Yarnell for failing to show up on several driving-related charges.

"Sir, you are wanted by Judge Hanger," LoBue tells the man. "Judge Hanger. I love that name."

With some, Judge LoBue is unyielding. A middle-aged man named Ronald shakes his head angrily as the judge reads from his arrest sheet. He's accused of assaulting his daughter and two cops. LoBue sets bail at $2,740 and orders Ronald not to go near his daughter's home, where the brouhaha allegedly occurred.

"How can I get my personal belongings from my daughter's apartment if I can't go there?" Ronald growls at the judge. "I want them. I believe these charges to be malicious prosecution."

The judge stares at him balefully.
With others he is much kinder. A South Phoenix man in his late fifties faces aggravated assault charges.

"What happened, Manuel?" the judge asks the man.
"My ex-girlfriend's boyfriend came to my house, and we got into it," he replies.

The judge releases Manuel on his own recognizance, despite the pretrial service interviewer's recommendation that bail be set. "If he comes back looking for you," LoBue advises the appreciative prisoner, "call the police. Don't go chasing him down the street."

Although he follows the interviewers' recommendations most of the time, LoBue occasionally makes his own call. In this instance, he explains his reasoning: "I could see from his file that he has no prior convictions, that he's lived in the same house for years, that he works for Garrett, and that the facts of the case aren't so cut-and-dried. That's what I get paid to notice. Hope I'm right."

LoBue also disregards a recommendation for bail in the case of a Phoenix mother of two whom police say cut her husband on the head with a knife.

"My husband has a drug problem," the woman tells LoBue.
"Where are you going to go, Jacqueline?" he asks her, after agreeing to release her on her own recognizance.

"To my mother's house," she whispers, before shuffling off in a tattered pair of pink slippers.

The night wears on. A black man holding a well-thumbed Bible approaches the bench.

"How can I fail to appear when I was already in custody?" he asks the judge with a rueful expression. "They never want to see me 'til I'm in jail."

LoBue nods and tells the man they'll probably scratch the case.
Next, LoBue takes a group that is particularly grouchy. These twenty prisoners are accused of violating parole, have been arrested on bench warrants or have had their probations revoked. None is eligible for release from jail, which explains the mood.

The only business LoBue has with these people is to give them their next court dates and to appoint lawyers, almost all from the public defender's office.

"I'm a baaaad girl," one woman from the group smirks at another after LoBue is done with her. A heavy-lidded young woman with a bouffant hairdo like the girl singers in the B-52's, Lisa has been caught with cocaine, just two months after being put on probation for the same offense. The detention officers escort her back to her cell.

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