RC Council Registers Opposition To Court Realignment

(April 3)  The Rancho Cucamonga City Council on April 2 adopted a resolution calling upon the managers of the court system in San Bernardino County to preserve its branch courts unless it can be demonstrated the closures will result in a savings of at least ten percent of the court system’s budget.
That resolution calls into question the wisdom of San Bernardino County Superior Court Presiding Judge Marsha Slough’s proposed court realignment.
The realignment will entail transferring all civil cases countywide to the new San Bernardino Justice Center, an eleven story edifice with 35 courtrooms now in the final stages of completion. In addition, San Bernardino district criminal cases, now being heard in the San Bernardino Central Courthouse built in 1927, will be tried in the new San Bernardino Justice Center.
West Valley Superior Courthouse in Rancho Cucamonga, which currently is the venue for both civil and criminal cases originating on the west end of the county, will be devoted almost entirely  to criminal cases, including those arising on the county’s west end and other felony and misdemeanor cases from the county’s central district which are currently routed to the Fontana Courthouse.  A small portion of the criminal cases now heard in Fontana will be adjudicated in San Bernardino. At least temporarily, hearings on both civil and domestic violence restraining order matters will be heard at the Rancho Cucamonga Courthouse.
The historic San Bernardino Courthouse will remain as the forum for the family law cases it currently hosts and will soon serve as the venue for the family law cases presently heard in Rancho Cucamonga.
The Fontana Courthouse will become the stage for all small claims, landlord tenant disputes and traffic/non-traffic infractions from the San Bernardino, Fontana and Rancho Cucamonga districts. The lion’s share of criminal cases now being heard in Fontana will transfer to Rancho Cucamonga. A lesser number of the Fontana criminal cases will go to San Bernardino.
The Victorville Courthouse will remain a venue for High Desert family law cases.
These changes are due to go into effect next month, when the San Bernardino Justice Center is given its certificate for occupancy.
Far flung San Bernardino County, which spans more than 20,000 square miles, is the largest county in the lower 48 states, with a land mass greater than the states of Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Connecticut combined. The logistical burden on many of the county’s citizens who need to access the courts will be tremendous. Driving distance from Needles to San Bernardino, which will host the only courtrooms in the county where civil cases will be heard, is 212 miles, with an average one-way traveling time of three hours and nine minutes.
Rancho Cucamonga was the first city in the county to take an official stand in opposition to the proposed realignment.
The city council unanimously endorsed the resolution and gave direction to city staff to carry the resolution to local members of the state legislature and insist on a response from them.  The council further directed Mayor Dennis Michael to take up the court realignment issue with the San Bernardino Association of Governments, the county’s transportation agency and regional planning board which has as its voting directors mayors or council members from each of the county’s 24 cities as well as all five members of the board of supervisors.
Among those who spoke at the meeting about the importance of access to justice and preserving local courts were several attorneys, including Liz Courtney; Richard Anderson, who was formerly Upland’s mayor; and former president of the Western San Bernardino County Bar Association Jim Banks. Also addressing the council was Marsha Meek Banks, a certified public accountant. Courtney, a family law attorney, said the realignment would place undue hardships upon and potentially legally disenfranchise individuals with family law cases. Anderson decried the change which he said would inhibit court access to residents of the West End communities. Jim Banks asserted that the realignment will produce little in cost savings and achieve only limited administrative and managerial efficiency at much greater expense in terms of logistical challenges and inconvenience to tens of thousands of county residents. Marsha Meek Banks spoke of the dangers lawyers and litigants will experience in San Bernardino, where the lack of parking at or near the newly constructed courthouse will require that those using the courthouse park in and then traverse by foot a crime-infested neighborhood.
The day before the council meeting, Dennis Stout, who was formerly both the mayor of Rancho Cucamonga and the district attorney of San Bernardino County; John Mannerino, another former president of the Western San Bernardino County Bar Association who was on the Rancho Cucamonga  Planning Commission for 5 years.; and Jim Banks met with Mayor Dennis Michael and his council colleague Sam Spagnolo. During that meeting, the Sentinel has learned, Stout and Mannerino spoke forcefully and frankly about the realignment as one that was ill-advised and being unilaterally imposed without adequate input from those it will impact.
That presentation had an apparent deep impact on Michael and Spagnolo. At the following night’s council meeting, council members repeatedly emphasized the need for all of the affected cities in the county to coalesce in opposition to the realignment.
Efforts are now under way, the Sentinel has learned, to encourage other city councils to pass similar resolutions to the one ratified by the Rancho Cucamonga City Council Wednesday evening.

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