Justice of the Peace is best known in popular culture as the officiant at a courthouse wedding. A civil marriage ceremony. Simple, quick and legal.
Jordan Reardon, Justice of the Peace for Gila County has married 60 couples since taking office. The other 5800 cases he presided over in his first year include preliminary hearings, criminal misdemeanors, traffic violations, civil cases up to $10,000.00, small claims suits up to $3500.
“For the vast majority of people in our community that have to go to court, this is where they start,” says Jordan. “I am dedicated whole-heartedly to providing a fair and impartial court.”
Knowing the Gangs
Jordan Reardon began his career as a detention officer with the Gila County Sheriff’s Department at age 18. Two weeks into his job he was offered a position with the Gang & Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission (GIITEM), a statewide multi-agency task force aimed at suppressing criminal gangs and transnational crime.
“I grew up in Miami. I was never in trouble,”says Jordan. “It was all new. It was exciting.”
He trained with the Arizona Dept. of Public Safety and became the youngest person to have served on a statewide task force. He learned about Mexican cartels and motorcycle gangs. As a Detention Liaison Officer his job was to identify gang members in custody and talk to them.
“It provided me critical learning and lifelong mentors, connections with public safety throughout the state and beyond,” Jordan says, “and the experience of providing service.”
After a brief break to attend flight school in Mesa and get “neck deep” in student loans, Jordan continued his law enforcement career with Pinal and Gila County Sheriff departments and Globe and Tempe Police departments.
It was during his time with Globe PD that Jordan became interested in Justice Court.
“I saw it in action,” he says, “It interested me.”
He volunteered his time to hear traffic cases and small claims as a Pro Forme in Tempe to see if he liked it.
“The minute I got into it,” says Jordan, “the more I enjoyed it.”
Justice of the Peace — Elected Office
In 2018, Jordan was elected the 27th Justice of the Peace for Gila County. It was his first foray into politics.
“It was challenging, but it worked out,” he says. “Arizona has a pretty thought out process.”
The role of Justice of the Peace (JP) dates back to England, 1264. Then known as “Keepers of the Peace, they were appointed in every county to serve the king. The name changed about a hundred years later. When colonists came to British North America, they brought the common law system and the JPs came with them. By the end of the 18th century, Justices of the Peace were elected in the U.S.
In Arizona, a Justice of the Peace is elected to a 4-year term, must be 18 years old and an Arizona resident, a qualified voter in the precinct of the court, and able to read and write English. They need not be an attorney.
That’s why it’s also called the People’s Court,” says Jordan.
He completed a 3-week training at the Judicial College of Arizona and noted a “healthy mix” of attorneys and non-attorneys in the course.
“We deal with a lot of the same charges, the same crime type, and you become very knowledgeable about case law in those areas,” says Jordan.
The JP’s role, he says, is to understand the technicalities of the law and explain it in layman’s terms so the defendant can understand what is going on and what options they face.
“I will work with you,”says Jordan. “I want you to participate in the process. You have to participate. If you are a defendant, this is not a spectator game. “
It is a level playing field, according to Jordan. Doesn’t matter who you are .. how wealthy or poor. Everyone has equal footing.
“Not everyone will agree with my decisions,” he says, “but I want everyone to feel they have been heard and the decisions have been based in the law.”
Jordan’s days “vary wildly.” On a Thursday afternoon in Novembers he presides over a protective order hearing and a criminal bench trial. He organizes tasks by baskets of motions from defendants, private attorneys and the state, civil and criminal civil cases, warrants. 60-65% of his work is administrative.
“You have a budget, a staff to manage;” he says, “and there’s an avalanche of work from the motions that comes through.”
In 2016, the Justice for All task force was established to define a set of best practices for Arizona courts.
“Some processes utilized, while legal, were creating more harm than good,” Jordan says of the task force findings,“it was about looking at a process and realizing that there is a better way and running with it.”
One notable principle of Justice for All is that people should not be disparately punished because they are poor. Judges are given discretion on penalties rather than having them state-mandated.
“If a fine is mandatory, there must be a fine, but it can be mitigated, explains Jordan. “Someone who makes 1 million a year is not going to be affected by a $500 fine as much as someone who makes 10K.”
Another change underway is the approach to suspended driver licenses due to unpaid fines that accumulate and leave some defendants with insurmountable debt. Jordan acknowledges that people have families and have to work and have to drive to get there.
“I will work with you,” he says. “You may still owe that money but I’ll put you on a payment plan and get your license back.”
In 2021, Gila County’s justice court will pilot remote translator services.
“Language access is critical in our courts,” says Jordan, “especially in rural areas where previously we have to pay for a translator to drive from a large metro area.
Jordan credits his close working relationships with superior court administration for the chance to get a head start on the program.
“We get to be a part of that innovation.”
Mental Health Concerns
“One of the large issues that we deal with in the court system is mental health concerns,” says Jordan.
He has recently been appointed to a mental health steering committee, to address the lack of resources for mental health support. Gila County is one of only two counties in the state that has no mental health crisis stabilization facility, resulting in overuse of the jail and hospital for mental health crises.
“We are finally in position as a county, the judiciary specifically, with the funding, discipline and commitment of stakeholders to map out a formalized process and common reference point from everyone involved — from 911 dispatcher to law enforcement or behavioral crisis expert through to the courts.”
In addition to a shared roadmap for mental health crises, mental health intervention and crisis intervention training will be provided for law enforcement agencies.
“Critical community support comes from identifying the problem and shining a light on it,” Jordan says. “This is an issue that occurs in our community pretty regularly.”
A traveler, Patti Daley came to Globe in 2016 to face the heat, follow love, and find desert treasure. She writes in many formats and records travel scraps and other musings at daleywriting.com.