seemed a natural progression for the fourth-largest trial court in the United
States—the Superior Court for Maricopa County, sitting in Phoenix and
environs—to attempt to find a way to expedite the handling of its staggering criminal caseload. 1 The prevailing view 30 years ago was that judicial officers
should conduct trials and not expand precious and limited judicial energy doing
settlement conferences and that if you were going to do them, the local bar
should donate time to conduct them.
The court had indeed adopted this philosophy and had a system in place in
the civil division of the court (and now also in Family Court), requiring practicing attorneys to conduct settlement conferences in civil cases on a pro bono
basis, which local bar association gladly was willing to do. 2
But criminal settlement conferences were different. It takes a well-honed
expertise to do them, and judicial officers had to know not to cross a line.
Instead of merely providing information to the accused, it was too easy for a
judge or commissioner to usurp the function of the executive branch and to try
—continued on p. 28