Gilbert's next presiding judge will have a law degree. The Gilbert Town Council voted late Tuesday to require for the first time that the presiding judge for Gilbert Municipal Court have a law degree, be in good standing in the State Bar of Arizona and have at least five years of experience in local courts.
"I feel safe with lawyers for some reason," said Councilwoman Joan Krueger. "But I'm absolutely concerned about a candidate who has some understanding of this particular court as opposed to a different organization."
The council began the process of selecting a new judge in light of presiding Judge David Phares' notice in December that he will retire in June. Phares, who has been Gilbert's presiding judge since 1991, has a bachelor's and a master's degree in education and speech communications, and had lower court experience before coming to Gilbert, but holds no law degree.
Councilman Don Skousen, who served prior to Phares as the town's presiding judge, also has a master's degree but no law degree.
"I don't think we are going to hire anybody that is not admitted to the Bar of Arizona," Skousen said. "I don't think we should."
The council agreed that it's unlikely to find a candidate with no degree, and after reviewing area cities and their rules, made having a law degree a requirement for holding the position. But the key, council members said, was that any attorney hired must have experience with a local court.
Councilman Les Presmyk said he'd like the next judge to also have management experience and even a master of business administration degree.
The council also agreed to consider applicants who already work for the town, as well as outside applicants. The previous requirement for a presiding judge in Gilbert was either a law degree or a master's degree and seven years of experience working in lower level courts.
The council has also debated whether to make the next presiding judge administrative. Phares currently hears cases as he runs the court. If the presiding judge becomes administrative, another judge might be needed to take over Phares' caseload.