Starting March 1, Green Valley residents facing eviction will no longer have to travel to Tucson to defend themselves.
For an unknown number of years, attorneys representing landlords in Green Valley have filed eviction notices in Pima County Consolidated Justice Court in downtown Tucson instead of Green Valley Justice Court.
While most landlords filing their own paperwork have been correctly filing it in Green Valley, attorneys representing landlords who own apartments or multiple houses have filed in Tucson, probably because they can file mass evictions without having to drive south, said Judge Ray Carroll, Green Valley Justice of the Peace.
However, filing the cases in Tucson is patently unfair to defendants on several levels, he said.
Court statistics show that over the last five fiscal years, Green Valley Justice Court handled just 87 eviction cases. The court in Tucson handled 163 Green Valley cases during the same period.
Carroll, who was appointed to his position in late 2017, was made aware of the situation by his staff and spoke to Adam Watters, the presiding judge of Pima County Consolidated Justice Court about it.
As it turns out, his predecessor, Lisa Royal, had also brought up the issue, Carroll said. They were both told the law dictates that defendants have to ask for the venue to be changed, he said.
The problem is that most defendants don't know they can ask that, he said. In addition, most defendants are struggling financially, making it less likely they will drive to Tucson to contest their eviction, Carroll said.
"These are people who can't afford rent so they're not going to afford a half a tank of gas to make the round-trip to Tucson," he said.
Historically, only 20 percent of defendants contest their evictions, but perhaps that number would be higher if they knew they could change the venue, Carroll said.
"It's hard enough to be evicted, it's an uphill battle, but then to have a venue 30 miles away and an $8 parking minimum downtown..." Carroll said. "People get confused and lost downtown and there are several courthouses."
Carroll said he argued his point at a judges' meeting Feb. 4, and the decision was made to change the filing procedure.
Starting March 1, evictions stemming from ZIP codes within Green Valley must be filed in Green Valley. Should a case be filed in Tucson, it will be dismissed instead of transferred and the filing fee will not be refunded.
A notice has been posted with the courts, and landlords and attorneys are being notified of the change, Watters said. Southern Arizona Legal Aid is also helping to spread the word, Carroll said.
Clerks and pro tem judges will be double checking addresses, too, Watters said.
Watters said there are 15,000 evictions filed annually in Pima County Consolidated Justice Court and the number of Green Valley evictions is a small percentage. However, he realizes just how important those cases are to those involved.
"It had been brought up sometime before, but there's always disagreements of what the statutes say, even among judges, right, it's up for interpretation," Watters said. "(We interpreted the statutes to say) it's up to a defendant to say, 'That's the wrong venue.' But we looked at the statute again and we think it's going to be our obligation as a court to make sure those cases are heard in Green Valley."
Although the attorneys have become used to handling 50 eviction hearings an hour in Tucson, Watters said he doesn't expect they'll complain about having to appear before Carroll.
"It's hard to argue venue, it's the law," he said. "We recently revisited it and decided that under the law, this is the more proper approach. No one wants people from Green Valley to have to drive up to Tucson when they should be heard in Green Valley."