State Court Commission Wants Judge Transfers Into SB County

The acute understaffing of San Bernardino County’s judicial bench might be partially cured by transferring judges here from other areas in the state where there are currently plenitudes of judicial officials.
According to the Commission on the Future of California’s Court System,   in some of California’s 58 counties, such as San Bernardino and Riverside, there are too few judges. In some others, according to the commission, there are more judges than are needed. The commission’s conclusion was compended in a report that was relayed to Governor Jerry Brown on Tuesday by California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye,
Before adding large numbers of judges to the state’s payroll, the game plan in Sacramento appears to be to take the most underworked jurists in the state and move them into more demanding assignments elsewhere.
Last year, Governor Jerry Brown sounded an alarm with the regard to overburdened judges in certain judicial districts in California and the need to more evenly distribute the workload among existing jurists before making new judicial appointments or filling chronically vacant slots.
On Tuesday, Cantil-Sakauye delivered to Brown the Commission on the Future of California’s Court System’s report in which that panel called for expeditiously making the transfers of a few judges out of the districts that have unclogged court calendars to ones that have a backlog of cases. Once those changes have been made, the next move would be to assess what continuing shortages within the state’s various courthouses exist, and apportion the appropriate number of judges to them.
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 that accompanied the downturn in the national, state and local economy that began in 2007 and persisted until 2014. During that period, the county sustained 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 were 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 County is the second-most judicially understaffed of California’s 58 counties.
An uptick in the number of judges would offset some of that problem. The California Judicial Council has approved the eventual addition of seven more judges in San Bernardino County beyond the 86 Superior Court judges and commissioners now in place. The funding for those seven judges has not yet been forthcoming. Yet even if those judges are appointed and take positions on the bench, law professionals and associations consider 93 judges to be well short of the number, pegged at 156, deemed appropriate for a jurisdiction of San Bernardino County’s size and population.
A Judicial Needs Assessment Report, issued in 2014, estimated that more than 260 new judges are needed statewide, with roughly 85 of those earmarked for San Bernardino and Riverside counties. The courts in Riverside and San Bernardino counties have just 60 percent of the judges they need, a report put out by the Commission on the Future of California’s Court System maintains. Meanwhile, courts elsewhere have more judges than necessary to handle their needs. Alameda County has three vacant judgeships and Santa Clara County has two, the report notes. The commission has recommended that when a judgeship goes vacant in a county where the number of judges exceed that county’s needs, the position should be shifted to a county with too few judges.
The Commission on the Future of California’s Court System’s recommendation is to be evaluated by the Judicial Council, which is primary advising body to the governor and state legislature on court policy. One of those recommendations calls for legislation redistributing vacant judgeships to the courthouses where they are most in need and giving the chief justice of the California Supreme Court the ability to make decisions on judicial assignments.

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