"[McDougall] admitted there was evidence of delay in matters pending in his court, and such delay resulted from his inadequate supervision of his staff," according to a news release issued by the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct." The commission -- which includes six judges, two attorneys and three "public" members -- maintains jurisdiction over all state and local judges.
McDougall resigned in late August after more than 26 years of mostly distinguished service with Maricopa County's Superior Court. The judge faxed Governor Jane Hull his letter of resignation immediately after responding by fax to questions posed by New Times about wide-ranging troubles in his courtroom ("Judge Not," Paul Rubin, August 31).
An investigation by the paper uncovered dozens of instances in which the judge had allowed divorce cases to go unresolved for weeks and months beyond mandatory deadlines -- often costing litigants unnecessary money and aggravation. The story noted that McDougall's longtime judicial assistant, Kathy Franklin, likely had backdated official court documents to make it appear that the judge was ruling on cases in a timely way -- which he wasn't. (Franklin reportedly is working for a Valley lawyer now.)
McDougall denied wrongdoing. In part, he said, "I at all times believed I was in compliance with the requirements of the [deadline] statute."
But the commission's executive director says the ex-judge stipulated to the public reprimand -- which says McDougall had failed to "discharge his administrative responsibilities diligently."
"Informal sanctions are the highest level of discipline that the commission can impose," says Keith Stott, "and normally, such sanctions are kept private. But Judge McDougall agreed to the public reprimand, and it seemed like the most reasonable approach to take, in part because he did, in fact, resign from the bench."
James McDougall is still licensed to practice law in the state of Arizona, and it isn't known whether disciplinary proceedings against him are pending with the State Bar of Arizona. He has served as chairman of both the Maricopa County and State Bar committees on family law. Veteran courthouse habitués say McDougall was instrumental in creating the county's first domestic-relations division, which is now called Family Court. He also headed the county's juvenile division for six years, a stint that ended in 1995.
McDougall is eligible to collect $92,400 annually in retirement pay.