Justice Writing

A Tucson judge may have violated state code by using his position to encourage an insurance settlement for his mother

Pima County Justice of the Peace Paul S. Simon appears to have flouted a canon of the state Code of Judicial Conduct by using his court letterhead to demand an auto-accident insurance settlement for his mother.

Simon, a 46-year-old Democrat who is coasting unopposed in the Nov. 2 election for a second full term, also used court letterhead to tell a caterer that he was choosing an alternative.

Copies of the documents were provided anonymously to the Weekly. Simon did not deny that he authored them, but he refused several times to answer questions about the propriety of sending such letters on court stationery. Instead, he said they didn't merit a story; he later demanded to know how the Weekly got them and asked if a Weekly reporter entered his office and took them.

Canon 2B of the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct states: "A judge shall not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge's judicial conduct of judgment. A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge."

Commentary on that provision contained in the code further states that it would be "improper for a judge to allude to or use his or her judicial position to gain a personal advantage such as deferential treatment when stopped by a police officer for a traffic offense. Similarly, judicial letterhead or any stationery identifying the judge as such must not be used for conducting a judge's personal business."

The handwritten letter to the caterer is undated.

The Judicial Code of Conduct forbids judges from practicing law, but Simon was allowed to help his mother under an exception that allows judges to represent themselves or, "without compensation, give legal advice to and draft or review documents for a member of the judge's family."

Experts, including sitting and retired judges who did not want to be named, said Simon's representation of his mother was permitted but that he should not have used the hammer of his judicial letterhead.

Keith Stott, executive director of the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct, said he could not comment because a complaint may be filed.

Similarly, John S. Leonardo, the presiding judge of Pima County Superior Court and an overseer of the lower court, declined comment other than to refer the Weekly to the previously mentioned Code of Conduct.

Simon, first appointed to the bench by the Board of Supervisors in 1997, did not want to talk about the matter, either.

"Don't you have anything better to do?" he said Friday, Sept. 17, while out of the office on a day off. "That's my question to you."

Simon, who has gained a higher profile by presiding over the marijuana case against former University of Arizona and Portland Trail Blazers basketball player Damon Stoudamire, said he would need to check his "recollection" about the use of court letterhead and call back.

Asked when the Weekly could expect his call, Simon said: "It must be a pretty slow news day" before hanging up.

He did call back within 30 minutes, but only to ask a receptionist if the reporter who called him really worked at the Weekly.

He sent a five-question e-mail the following day, along with an admonition to not contact him on the cell phone number he had previously provided. The questions included an inquiry of how the Weekly obtained copies of the letters. He also asked the reporter: "Did you enter into my office and take these documents?"

At issue is the May 31, 2002, letter Simon sent to a Tucson office of Farmers Insurance demanding compensation for his mother's "pain and suffering as a result of the accident and injuries incurred pursuant to her 'uninsured' motorist coverage. Therefore, the amount of $7,500 is declared to be a reasonable compensation in settlement of her claim. This amount is fully supported by the facts and circumstances of this case."

Farmers Insurance is a frequent litigant in Justice Court, with more than 951 cases as a plaintiff in less than 20 years, and some 30 cases in recent years as a defendant, records show.

Just 17 days before Simon used court letterhead to advocate for his mother, Farmers filed a suit on a matter in Justice Court. Farmers was ultimately awarded $7,723. Simon is listed as the judge, according to records.

Civil disputes in Justice Court--commonly called "the people's court"--are limited to demands of no more than $10,000.

An opinion by the Commission on Judicial Conduct emphasizes that judges refrain from practicing law.

A 1982 opinion states that a judge should not practice law in the court where he serves. The commission also said then that it was "of the opinion that a person who is a full-time judge and that an attorney who is a justice of the peace being compensated at the level of a full-time judicial officer should not practice law."

Simon is the presiding judge at the Justice Courts and is paid $81,394 a year, plus hefty county benefits and state retirement contributions. A native of Pittsburgh, he received a master's degree in education from the UA and his law degree for the University of Idaho. He won political appointment by the Board of Supervisors for Justice Precinct 6, which covers central Tucson and part of the Catalina Foothills. Four years ago, he defeated John Molloy, then 82, and a respected former Superior Court and Arizona Court of Appeals judge.

In a profile on the Justice Court Web site, Simon boasts of reducing the court's civil case load with a settlement program he created. He also serves on the faculty of the Arizona Judicial College "in training of new judges statewide as well as a mentor judge."