A Maricopa County Superior Court judge overstepped her authority in setting jail visitation hours for all inmates, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
The unanimous three-judge panel said in its opinion that Judge Anna Baca had the authority to hold hearings in November on whether new, reduced visitation hours implemented to save on overtime violated the rights of inmates, but she should have tailored her ruling "without unnecessarily intruding on the Sheriff's authority to establish visitation hours."
The issue began in early November when the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office announced it had spent itsentire overtime budget within the first quarter of the fiscal year.
Part of the plan to make up the $1.8 million overtime deficit was to reduce the visitation hours, including those for "privileged" visits, which are meetings between inmates and their lawyers, probation officers, interpreters and mental health evaluators.
The Maricopa County Public Defender's Office asked Baca to reinstate the schedule for privileged visits.
Baca held an extensive hearing and concluded that the new schedule violated the inmates' rights to counsel and access to the courts.
Baca ruled that attorneys would be allowed access until 9 p.m. The Court of Appeals ruling on Tuesday voided that order.
Jail officials testified at a hearing in January that after Baca's ruling the jail was open 24 hours a day for defense attorneys to visit their clients.
"The real important issue is we decide the visitation hours," said Jack MacIntyre, a sheriff's spokesman.