It’s been said that absolute power corrupts, absolutely.

I’ve found that to be true, but not always. Here are some short stories of two JPs who really impressed me by admitting they could not always be right.

I once had a protective order to serve out of the West Mesa Justice Court, signed by Judge Clayton Hamblen. The defendant told me a crazy story, how the plaintiff had come over the night before and destroyed a bunch of stuff in his outside storage shed. The defendant was so earnest in the telling of this story that I called Judge Hamblen and explained the circumstances I’d found in the storage shed. He asked me not to serve the order, but to return it with my notes. It always impressed me that he did that!

Another time I had a protective order to serve out of my own court, signed by Judge Lester N. Pearce. The plaintiff was outside, standing by, as I went to serve the order. The order was for “possession” of this apartment, meaning the defendant had to leave and not return without a police standby.

The defendant said something to me at the door, which I will not ever forget! She said: “Oh, he just wants to come in here so he can light everything on fire!” Now, put yourself in my shoes. He’s waiting outside to get inside, and she’s telling me he’s about to commit a crime. This was back before the days of smartphones. She described, in detail, where his last arson had occurred. It was in Pinal County, so I called the records department of the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office. It was easier to get information over the phone back then. They told me what I needed to know, and faxed records over to the court as well.

What the defendant had said to me was true! He was, indeed, an arsonist whose crimes were often committed against family members. I waited in that apartment for about an hour and a half, communicating with Judge Pearce, who reviewed the records from Pinal County. He reversed himself, whereupon I had Mesa PD respond to trespass this gentleman from the premises.

Protective orders are issued ex parte, meaning only one party needs to appear. Sometimes, It’s hard for a judge to discern the truth when only hearing only one side of the story. That’s why the old adage, “there are two sides to every story” exists. In the court we often say: “There are two sides to every story, and then there’s the truth, which usually falls in the middle somewhere.”

What these two judges taught me, is that a good JP needs to realize they can’t always be right. They can’t always discern the truth, especially when testimony is ex parte. You’ve got to be willing to reverse yourself when faced with additional information.

— Ed Malles