SIERRA VISTA — A new agreement between the city and Cochise County for court operations will cost Sierra Vista more money in the next fiscal year, while also separating the justice of the peace and city magistrate’s roles, officials said.
The contract between the two governmental entities is now titled the Court Co-Location and Operations Agreement because the municipal court and the Sierra Vista Justice Court will operate separately, except for four hours a month when the municipal court will hear code enforcement or animal control violation cases within the Justice Court.
The cost of the new contract will jump from $161,000 to $276,807, the latter taking hold in fiscal year 2021-22, city officials said. The steeper cost is based on a new formula, said Deputy City Manager Victoria Yarbrough.
“The increased amount is due to the new funding formula ... and reflects the city’s fair share of court expenses for the civil, civil traffic and misdemeanor cases that SVPD cites into the Justice Court,” Yarbrough said Thursday.
Yarbrough also told City Council members at a work session on Tuesday that the Justice of the Peace will no longer also be the magistrate as in past arrangements. The Justice of the Peace does not have to be an attorney.
With the new agreement the magistrate is required to be an attorney and will be the Justice of the Peace Pro Tempore. The latter is a lawyer who has routinely been assigned by the presiding judge of Cochise County to assist the Sierra Vista Justice of the Peace handle a heavy caseload.
Last month Justice of the Peace Pro Tempore Gary Ramaeker was assigned as interim magistrate by Cochise County Superior Court Presiding Judge James Conlogue. The judge was forced to name Ramaeker after Sierra Vista Justice of the Peace and magistrate Pat Call refused to sign a consolidated court agreement with the city in September. It’s not clear why Call declined signature of the contract. He has never returned calls or messages left by the Herald/Review on the matter.
Because of that, Conlogue suggested a new type of agreement whereby the municipal and justice courts, and the Justice of the Peace and magistrate, are separate entities.
Yarbrough told the City Council that the magistrate — regarded as a court employee — would now be funded by the county.
The city will still have to fork over more money because of the new formula that takes into account the total number of civil traffic, criminal traffic, local ordinance and misdemeanor cases cited into the court by Sierra Vista Police and the percentage those cases make up in the court, city officials said.
The agreement would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021, and continues through June 30, 2022. It would automatically renew each July 1 thereafter for one year unless either party decided to end the agreement with 120 days notice, city documents show.