State Judicial Council Calls For Upping SB County’s Judge Total From 84 to 93

(December 23) A first step toward increasing the number of judges in San Bernardino County was taken last week when the California Judicial Council ratified upping the number of new judicial officers in both Riverside and San Bernardino counties by nine judges each.
Far-flung San Bernardino County, the largest such political subdivision in the Lower 48 States at  20,105 square miles, has been particularly hard hit by cutbacks in the state court system, suffering the closures of the Chino courthouse on its southwest extreme, the closure of the Needles courthouse on its northeast end and the Twin Peaks and Big Bear courthouses in its central mountain communities. In addition, operations at the Barstow courthouse have been scaled back to a single courtroom that is open three days a week. There have been consequent case delays and crowded calendars and courtrooms at all the county’s other courthouses.
With its population having now eclipsed 2.1 million, San Bernardino is the second-most judicially understaffed of California’s 58 counties.
An uptick in the number of judges would offset some of that problem, although the nine approved by the Judicial Council would have San Bernardino County, which now has 84 Superior Court judges and commissioners, well short of the number, pegged at 156,  deemed appropriate for a county of its size and population. Moreover, even if the nine new judges were to materialize, the county itself would probably need to cover some of the cost of providing the additional courthouse staffing to allow those judges to be functional. Over the last six years, court staff  in the county has been severely downscaled.
While the Judicial Council made the recommendation, it does not have budgetary appropriation authority to actually put those recommendations into actuality. The state legislature would have to free up the funding for the judge expansion. And though it is arguably the most needy of the state’s counties, San Bernardino County is but one of dozens lagging with regard to adequate criminal and civil court resources.
Providing a new judge is an expensive proposition, entailing costs of over a million dollars per year. The cost of a judgeship entails the $181,292 in salary each is paid by the state, plus clerks, secretaries and bailiffs, representing a total package, once established of at least $950,000 per year. The start-up cost for the first year is considerably higher, around $1.65 million.
In addition, several counties, including San Bernardino County, supplement judges’ pay with stipends. In San Bernardino County, that add-on runs to $20,000 per year. That practice has come under severe criticism, including charges that it compromises the integrity of the judges, who often hear cases in which the county is a plaintiff or a defendant.
The legislature, which several years ago committed to a program of expanding judges throughout the state but reneged on that about one third of the way through the process when funding dried up, will need to approve the financing of the Judicial Council’s request, which it titled its “2014 Legislative Priority.”

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