A Washington, D.C., law firm will research whether drunken driving courts established in Maricopa County specifically for Spanish speakers and American Indians are unconstitutional, County Attorney Andrew Thomas announced Thursday.
Thomas said at a news conference that he believes the courts violate equal protection laws, and he hired the firm of Jones Day to determine whether they can be legally challenged.
Standing beside Thomas at the lectern was the Rev. Oscar Tillman, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Tillman said race -based courts are a step back to the days of "separate but equal," a concept that was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954.
"I’m well aware of what separate but equal means," said Tillman, who grew up in the South in the 1940s and 1950s. "We do not need this in our court system."
County Superior Court Presiding Judge Barbara Rodriguez Mundell, who presides over the Spanish DUI court, said research has already been done and the courts are constitutional.
The Spanish-speaking and Indian DUI courts were established in 2002 and 2003, respectively, and are funded by federal grants. They are rehabilitation programs for convicted felony DUI offenders on probation, Mundell said.
Mundell said that she and Thomas have never formally discussed the issue. "It’s political posturing," she said.
Thomas, who took office this year, has to provide attorneys to those courts. He said the wording on the application for the federal grant proves they are race-based.
The application says Hispanics and Indians need the courts because current "alcohol and substance use treatment curriculum is designed for the dominant culture, male Caucasians."
Thomas did not have the Jones Day fee immediately available. He said the law firm has expertise in constitutional law and was one of a number of law firms approved by the County Board of Supervisors months ago to do legal work for the county.