Republican, Dem incumbent vie for Pinal judge - East Valley Tribune: News

Republican, Dem incumbent vie for Pinal judge

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Posted: Thursday, September 18, 2008 6:51 pm | Updated: 9:25 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Republicans are challenging the traditionally politically comfortable Democrats in a number of Pinal County races this year, including a run for a spot on the Pinal County Superior Court.

Democrat Janna Vanderpool, a Division 6 judge, is facing a spirited challenge from Republican Steve Fuller, a former Pinal County prosecutor.

Fuller, who lives in Johnson Ranch, defeated Apache Junction attorney Daniel Washburn in the Sept. 2 primary.

Four other judicial positions were uncontested, and those judges face no general election competition.

Newly invigorated Republican candidates have been a consistent theme across the county this election season in large part because of better numbers.

Countywide, Democrats make up about 36 percent of voters, 34 percent are Republicans, and nearly 30 percent are independent, according to the most recent statistics from the county's recorder.

Vanderpool points out that the Nov. 4 ballot won't designate either of the candidates as an "R" or a "D." The party only came into play in the primary.

Still, Vanderpool, who was first elected in 2000, thinks she knows why she's being targeted, while the other races have gone uncontested. And she said it has nothing to do with her abilities in the courtroom.

"I just look to them as the least politically active judge on the bench, and I have to say I am," she said. "I think they look around and reasonably say there aren't a lot of Republicans."

Both Vanderpool and Fuller are former prosecutors with a broad range of experience.

Fuller has been a prosecutor for 14 years and recently stepped down as a deputy criminal attorney in the Pinal County Attorney's Office so he could run for judge. He's been involved in 78 felony trials during his career, he said, and worked as a prosecutor in Maricopa County on gang crime.

Since moving to Pinal County in 2002, he's had broad discretion to prosecute cases, he said.

The rural county offered a wider variety of cases, including murder, shoplifting, armed robbery and the smuggling of illegal immigrants. He was recognized in 2003 as the county's top felony prosecutor.

In Maricopa County, "you're basically told what to do on every case," he said. "In Pinal County, you have much broader discretion. It was really nice to come down and make my own decisions."

Vanderpool served as a deputy county attorney for 11 years, in Pinal County and elsewhere.

She said one of her achievements on the bench is being the judicial adviser for a mental health court that's been operating since 2004. The court streamlines the legal process for mentally ill offenders, many of whom are nonviolent, but linger in jail because they have been deemed not competent to stand trial.

She said the court saves taxpayers money by helping treat people with mental health issues and moving them out of jail more quickly.

"I think it has the potential to be extremely successful," she said. "Right now, it is very realistic that a streamline process can save time and energy in judicial response to mental health issues in the court."

In her eight years as a Pinal County judge, Vanderpool has handled civil law and juvenile cases, and currently her court is focusing on criminal cases, handling about 50 percent of the county's criminal caseload.

She said her experience as a prosecutor and a judge has made her well-rounded in many facets of law.

"As a judge, I have been in the rotation on every kind of case we do here," she said.

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