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DONNA LEONE HAMM, JUDGE (RETIRED)is the founder and Executive Director of Middle Ground Prison Reform, an all-volunteer non-profit organization, officially formed in 1983. She is a former (non attorney)  lower court judge in Coconino and Maricopa counties, as well as a former town magistrate pro tem. Donna is self-employed as a private criminal justice consultant (expert witness) / educator/trainer for executive clemency (such as commutation of sentence -- regular, 603 (L) and imminent danger of death; parole, revocation, modification of release conditions and absolute discharge).  She also works with attorneys  for clients who require mitigation reports in non-capital criminal cases in state and federal courts.  Donna is an expert witness in executive clemency and prison policy and procedure (such as protective custody, visitation, inmate marriages, property, mail, access to attorneys and privileged calls and visits, etc.), and has also testified as a expert in parenting issues for prisoners.

In addition to her judicial experience, her background includes having formerly served as Executive Director of Florence Crittenton Services of Arizona, Inc., a non-profit residential treatment center and outpatient clinic for abused, abandoned and delinquent teenage girls, ages 12-17. She also served as the Executive Director of Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice during its formative stages. Donna was one of the founding members of the Coalition of Arizonans to Abolish the Death Penalty (CAADP) and previously served on its Steering Committee. In addition, Donna was a board member of National C.U.R.E., a criminal justice reform agency headquartered in Washington, D.C.  She is a Registered Principal Lobbyist at the Arizona State Legislature for Middle Ground Prison Reform and has lobbied at both the state and federal levels for criminal and social justice issues.  

Donna is an international speaker on the issues of prison and jail reform. She was a guest speaker to the International Conference on Human Rights & Prison Reform in New York, and made presentations at the Pacific Sociological Association's Annual Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.  She is frequently a guest speaker/presenter at civic and community groups and to college and university classes throughout Arizona.  She has appeared on CBS "60 Minutes," The Bill Moyers Program, numerous PBS specials, and is regularly contacted by the Associated Press and other print and electronic media organizations for her views on prison-related issues.  Middle Ground has been invited by the Arizona World Affairs Council, in cooperation with the U.S. State Department, to participate each year since 2001 in hosting international visitors from countries throughout the world who are studying the United States justice/correctional system.  

As noted, Donna has been qualified as an expert witness in state and federal courts on issues such as prison and jail policy and conditions, as well as on executive clemency releases  She has also testified in death penalty cases as a mitigation witness.   At the request of two condemned prisoners, she was a witness at two Arizona executions; one gas chamber; one lethal injection.    In 1993, she was appointed to the State's Sentencing & Parity Review Committee which reviewed the sentencing code and made recommendations for parity in sentencing.  This work resulted in a legislative bill which allowed some "old code" (pre 1994) prisoners to apply for clemency. 

Donna has been a successful pro se plaintiff in several lawsuits challenging the Arizona Department of Corrections on visitation, property and Board hearing rules implemented by the DOC. She has made presentations at the Board of Executive Clemency regarding improving procedures which both the DOC and the Board use to schedule revocation hearings.  During the past 40 years, she has made hundreds of presentations before legislative committee hearings to support or oppose various proposed bills.  Along with James Hamm, she has authored reports and proposals which have been presented throughout the years to various sessions of the Arizona legislature.


In  2017, Donna began serving on the Stakeholder's Committee to the Director of the Department of Corrections.   Unfortunately, the DOC Director did not utilize the resources of the various members of his advsory committee to improve the function of his department.   Donna was a participant in the Statewide Arizona Town Hall on Criminal Justice Reform in 2019.   In late 2020, Middle Ground sponsored a panel discussion, hosted by Arizona Capitol Times, entitled, "What's Possible in Criminal Justice Reform in 2021?" which featured panelists from the Arizona Legislature and James Hamm of Middle Ground.  Over 300 members of the public registered for this zoom event. 

In 2020, Donna was named as one of Arizona's Top 20 Women Achievers by the Arizona Capitol Times.  

In her personal life, Donna is an FAA licensed private pilot, certified in Coastal Sailing and SCUBA diving.   In addition, she has logged more than 10,000 miles of offshore/bluewater sailing.  She trekked in the lower regions of the Himalayan Mountains in Nepal.  Donna is the proud grandparent of six grandchildren. She was born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, but has been an Arizona resident since 1976.    

JAMES J. HAMM , J.D., is a former life-term prisoner in the Arizona Department of Corrections.  In 1974, James was sentenced to 25 years to Life in prison for a drug-related homicide.  His sentence was later reduced (via commutation of sentence)  to 16.5 years to Life by then-Gov. Rose  Mofford based upon his exemplary behavior and  accomplishments while incarcerated.   He was granted parole in 1992 and granted an absolute discharge from his sentence in 2001.  While in prison, James earned a summa cum laude bachelor's degree from Northern Arizona University in Applied Sociology with an extended major.  James also tutored staff and other prisoner/students; wrote grants for library and counseling services and served as the inmate representative on the Grievance Review Committee.  While in prison, James assisted Middle Ground in the successful filing of several successful civil rights lawsuits which protected the rights of inmates to receive mail; visit, and protect their lawfully obtained property.  James and Donna also successfully challenged illegal DOC policies on the attendance of members of the public to hearings conducted by the Board of Executive Clemency (then called the Board of Pardons and Paroles).    

After release from prison, James was admitted to the ASU College of Law after scoring in the 96th percentile (nationwide) on LSAT exams.  He graduated law school and passed the bar exam, but was not admitted to practice.  The hearings before the Arizona Supreme Court Character and Fitness Committee were clearly biased and the outcome pre-determined.  In fact, two members of the committee had to be removed from it for admitted bias, but they did not voluntarily disclose their bias in advance of being removed.  However, James has taken the high road throughout all of the challenges he has faced as an "ex offender" and he continues to serve as a role model for reintegrated prisoners and their families, as well as for other citizens.  His story is one of inspiration and redemption.

James has been a guest lecturer and speaker to many college and university classes.  He has presented sociological papers internationally.  James was hired by Arizona State University as an adjunct professor and, later, to make a presentation entitled, "Reinventing Rehabilitation," and did so with a packed auditorium.   Today, he works as a volunteer for Middle Ground; an expert witness/private consultant for attorneys, provides consulting services to defendants about the realities of prison and the challenges they will face in attempting to complete their incarceration, and testifies at the Arizona Legislature as a volunteer lobbyist for Middle Ground.  His consulting work for attorneys is specialized in the area of post-conviction relief, including Rule 32, Direct Appeals, Habeas Petitions and other legal matters.  He has been qualified in the court as an expert on time computation (old criminal code) , prison gang activity, and the "inmate code."  James was a participant in the Statewide Arizona Town Hall on Criminal Justice Reform in 2019.  

James  enjoys sailing, travel, sports and reading, and the company of his six grandchildren.  He was born in Hays, Kansas and has been in Arizona since 1974.



James Hamm is a volunteer for Middle Ground.   He spent 17.5 years in prison for first degree murder, and was granted a commutation of sentence by Gov. Rose Mofford in 1989.  While in prison, he earned a bachelor's degree in Applied Sociology/Corrections from Northern Arizona University/Summa cum laude.  He graduated from the Arizona State University College of Law after prison, but his Application for Admission to State Bar/ Docketed March 29, 2006, was denied.   He challenged the denial at the United States Supreme Court.

The Petition for Certiorari is 30 pages in length but includes a total of 389 pages with appendices, including the documents filed by the "other side." (Other side is defined as the Character & Fitness Committee).    If you decide to download the document,  it is approx. 1.5 MB .    After downloading the entire document, you may select certain pages (or all of them) for printing. 

To Download, CLICK HERE    DECISION ON CASE:  On May 22, 2006, the Petition for Certiorari was denied without comment.   No further appeal of this case is possible. 

For a sample of an editorial opinion on the denial of James  Hamm's admission to the Arizona State Bar, CLICK HERE.

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