The Oro Valley Town Council picked Judge James W. Hazel Jr. to take over the town’s magistrate duties once Judge George Dunscomb retires from the bench this spring.
Hazel is expected to assume the position’s duties on April 19 for the duration of two years at a cost of $160,000 per year, according to the Town Magistrate Employment Agreement contract. The town magistrate is responsible for presiding over court proceedings and administering fair, impartial judgment in accordance with the Arizona and United States constitutions. Magistrates also oversee administrative functions like creating organizational goals and making financial decisions regarding the department’s budget. The minimum qualifications for the position require a Juris Doctor Degree, seven years of experience as a practicing courtroom attorney and being a member in good standing with the State Bar of Arizona.
The incoming judge, named to the post during the March 3 Oro Valley Town Council meeting, is currently the presiding magistrate with Apache Junction Municipal Court, a position he has held since 2008. Hazel also served as the Civil Traffic Hearing Officer for Mesa Municipal Court from 2003 to 2018. He said a major influence on why he chose to come to Oro Valley was the quality of service provided by the town and its staff.
“My goal is to use my skills to build upon the accomplishments of the prior administration,” Hazel said. “Specifically, to be able to use my skills in technology to improve the accessibility and efficiency of the courtroom system to the members of the community.”
Hazel said citizens can expect to be treated with fairness, courtesy and respect, should they find themselves in his courtroom.
“No concern or issue is too small to be addressed,” Hazel said. “My philosophy is one of service to the community and as such citizens should expect my courtroom to be one where they will be heard, where their questions will be answered and where solutions can be found.”
After spending the past 22 years on the bench serving Oro Valley, retiring Magistrate Judge George Dunscomb said being the town’s magistrate was the best job he’s ever had. The most rewarding part of the job, he said, was being able to help people change for the better. He reminisced about being able to help a ranch-hand who often appeared in his courtroom over the years.
“We had this older fella who worked on a ranch and he got arrested for DUI. He just wasn’t able to stop drinking and it was one of those cases where we didn’t give up on him,” Dunscomb said. “We just kept pulling him back in and I had to sentence him to jail a few times. But he came back to the court and said, ‘I want to thank you for what you’ve done. You’ve really helped me straighten my life out.’”
The judge said a recent pancreatic cancer diagnosis led him to choose retirement and he plans to spend time traveling with his wife after his treatment is complete. As a self-professed advocate for healthy living, Dunscomb said he was shocked by the diagnosis. He originally went to his physician for acute back pain, which they initially thought was brought on by kidney stones. After a CT scan, Dunscomb’s doctor realized the pain was coming from diverticulitis—an inflammation pocket that can form in the intestine. The CT scan also revealed a mass on the judge’s pancreas which turned out to have a high level of dysplasia—abnormal cells that can become cancerous if not treated.
“I was actually lucky that I ended up with diverticulitis, which may sound odd but if I had not had that incident and followed up on it, I probably wouldn’t be here another six months,” Dunscomb said. “I was one of the folks up here who’s an advocate for a healthy lifestyle. I guess my point is you can do all of those things but cancer can still get you.”
The judge said he hopes others will be inspired by his story to get regular cancer screenings and to not write off aches and pains as a cost of getting older. The pain could be something more serious and could ultimately cost your life, Dunscomb said.
“The more people that know about this, the more they’ll pay attention to themselves,” the judge said.
After receiving his undergraduate degree from Colorado’s Adams State University in the 1970s, Dunscomb applied to the University of Arizona’s College of Law in 1976. The judge said he has not looked back since making the decision to move to the Old Pueblo.
“I got the letter in late April that I had been accepted to the UA,” Dunscomb said. “It was about 10 degrees below zero in Alamosa that night and it was 70 degrees in Tucson. So, I thought, ‘10 below or 70 degrees?’ The choice wasn’t hard.”