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James P. Angiulo, ex-Justice of the Peace

Citizen Staff Writer



Former Pima County Justice of the Peace James P. Angiulo, who was known as “Judge Jim,” died peacefully Sunday afternoon in his Tucson home, a court official said.

Mr. Angiulo, 61, died of a brain tumor, said Court Administrator Lisa Royal.

Mr. Angiulo cited health reasons when he resigned March 31 as presiding judge of Pima County Consolidated Justice Court, Precinct 1.

“Unfortunately, my physical condition has reached the point where I can no longer wholeheartedly serve the citizens of Pima County with the same dedication and commitment that I am accustomed to providing,” Mr. Angiulo wrote in his resignation letter.

Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor expressed her condolences.

“It is with great sadness that I learned of Judge Angiulo’s death,” McGregor said Monday. “He contributed significantly to the Arizona justice system.

“On behalf of the Arizona Judicial Branch, I extend our sympathy to his family,” she said.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry ordered flags at county buildings lowered to half staff in Mr. Angiulo’s honor.

Mr. Angiulo had intended to follow his father into law when a physician uncle, who practiced in Tucson, diverted him, according to a January 2008 article in the New York Medical College’s Chironian magazine. He became a doctor instead.

The younger Angiulo moved to Tucson to join his uncle’s practice in 1975.

Still, Mr. Angiulo told the magazine, “I always had a burning desire to be an attorney” and he enrolled in the University of Arizona law school.

Tucson defense attorneys Jill Thorpe and Eric Larsen attended law school with Mr. Angiulo.

“I remember in law school, where the students are generally type A personalities already, seeing him on the pay phone – no cell phones back in the day – dealing with his medical practice, in between law school classes,” Thorpe said.

“I thought to myself at the time, ‘Now that guy must be smart and driven,’ ” she said.

Larsen said Mr. Angiulo was “known for cutting through the chaff and getting to the heart of an issue.”

Larsen remembered an incident in court in which a defendant didn’t show up. Mr. Angiulo called the defendant using a speakerphone from the bench and, after identifying himself, asked if he knew if he was supposed to be in court.

“The guy responded, ‘yes,’ but he wasn’t going to go,” Larsen said.

“At that point Jim identified himself again, more slowly. The silence was deafening on the other end of the speaker phone as Jim went on to say he was this guy’s judge and he better make it to court,” Larsen said.

“The guy was there in 15 minutes,” Larsen said.

“Quintessential Jim, got the job done, didn’t let convention stand in the way, and treated the guy fairly and with humor.”

Presiding Judge Jan E. Kearney of Pima County Superior Court said at the time of Mr. Angiulo’s retirement that “Judge Jim” gave “extraordinary service to the court and the community.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Elías said then that Mr. Angiulo made Justice Court run more effectively.

“That’s something that goes far beyond being a good judge, a good steward of the public money, a good citizen who really understands the meaning of public service,” Elías said.

Royal said Mr. Angiulo improved the case management system so cases didn’t drag on endlessly.

“Without jeopardizing due process, he came up with ways we could really streamline the system,” she said.

Spurred on by the Arizona Supreme Court’s pilot driving under the influence case processing program, Justice Court cut the swollen pending caseload by more than 67 percent, Royal said.

During Mr. Angiulo’s tenure, Justice Court’s budget rose by 57 percent and revenues increased by more than $1 million under a new system to collect fines.

“He wanted to be a people’s judge,” Royal said.

At first, Mr. Angiulo didn’t want to wear his robe at court, despite Royal’s urgings, she remembered.

“He’d say, ‘I don’t need a robe,’” Royal recalled.

Royal would tell Mr. Angiulo that wearing the robe would show people that they needed to respect him, she said.

Mr. Angiulo would reply, “I’m here to help people. I don’t need to demand their respect,” Royal said.

Eventually, Mr. Angiulo caved in and wore the robe, Royal said.

“But then I told him he needed to zip it up!” she said, laughing.

“I felt very humbled that he would call me his partner,” Royal said. “I don’t know many judges who would put the administrator on the same level as they are.

“But he would say, ‘You’re here to manage the administrative side and I’m here to manage the judicial. Together, we manage the court,’ ” Royal said.

Royal said Mr. Angiulo had a way about him as well as a great sense of humor that put everyone at ease, including jurors.

Tucson Municipal Court Judge Margarita Bernal said Mr. Angiulo was widely admired for his common sense and for showing dignity and respect to the public.

“His passing is a very sad thing for the judicial system and judges across the state,” Bernal said. “He was a role model for all of us.

“He always found a common resolution for any problem that came up,” Bernal said.

Mr. Angiulo earned his UA law degree in 1985 and, after passing the bar exam on his first try, began practicing law with his father.

Mr. Angiulo was appointed justice of the peace pro tem at Justice Court in 1985 and in 1995 was appointed presiding judge at Sahuarita Municipal Court.

He was elected to Justice Court in 2002 and voted presiding judge by his colleagues in 2005. He was re-elected in 2006. He ran unopposed both times.

Mr. Angiulo retired from medicine in 2000, but kept his medical license up to date.

He is survived by his wife, Nina; daughter Jaime Avery; and sons Michael and Matthew Angiulo.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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