Needles Court To Reopen Once A Month Starting July 7

As of upcoming July 7, the San Bernardino County Superior Court will reopen the Needles Justice Court once a month. That development has been widely hailed as the second step toward attenuating the onerous impact of the 2014 realignment of San Bernardino County’s court system, formulated in large measure by then-presiding judge Marsha Slough, then-assistant presiding judge Larry Allen, then-court executive officer Stephen Nash and Nash’s successor, then-court executive officer Christine Volkers. That realignment revolved around the May 12, 2014 opening of the 11-story, 35-courtroom San Bernardino County Justice Center located at 247 West Third Street in the county seat. During the previous decade and intensifying during the two-year run-up to or simultaneous with the justice center’s opening, the county court system centralized a significant portion of its operation in the county seat, shuttering several courthouses around the county, including ones in Chino, Barstow, Needles, Redlands and the mountain communities. With the opening of the San Bernardino County Justice Center, San Bernardino District criminal cases, previously heard in the San Bernardino Central Courthouse built in 1927, were moved into the new San Bernardino Justice Center. The West Valley Superior Courthouse in Rancho Cucamonga, which had been a venue for all order of both civil and criminal cases originating on the west end of the county, lost most but not all of its civil calendar. With the realignment, it remained as the venue for criminal cases arising on the county’s west end and also took on most felony and misdemeanor cases from the county’s Central District, which were to that point routed to the Fontana Courthouse. The Rancho Cucamonga courthouse continued to host hearings on both civil and domestic violence restraining order matters and remained, until this month, a venue for name change petitions.
The historic San Bernardino Courthouse remains as the forum for the family law cases from the Central District previously adjudicated there and took on the family law cases previously heard in Rancho Cucamonga. The Fontana Courthouse became the stage for all small claims, landlord tenant disputes and traffic/non-traffic infractions from the San Bernardino, Fontana and Rancho Cucamonga districts. The Victorville Courthouse remained a venue for High Desert family law cases.
Many questioned the wisdom of Slough’s vision for the transformation of the county court system and the centralization of all civil courts in downtown San Bernardino. Far flung San Bernardino County, which spans 20,105 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. Slough’s change has imposed a tremendous logistical burden on many of the county’s citizens who need to access the courts. Driving distance from Needles to San Bernardino is 212 miles, with an average one-way traveling time of three hours and nine minutes. Slough said her hands were tied by Sacramento, which had consistently over the preceding several years cut the Superior Court’s operating budget.
Hope that the realignment might be substantially reversed was dashed with the county’s sale of the Chino Courthouse in the summer of 2015. There was little prospect that other courthouses the county had closed down, such as the one in Redlands and another in Twin Peaks, might be reactivated. One small change perceived as a shift back toward better access was when the Barstow Court was reopened two days a week for certain types of cases.
In December 2015, Governor Jerry Brown elevated Slough to the Fourth Appellate Court, a move which many in the local legal community saw as reward for her having fulfilled budgetary mandates from Sacramento. Two months later, after Slough was no longer presiding judge, Volkers was put on administrative leave, which was suspected but never officially confirmed as being a manifestation of the widespread local discontent over the court closures and consolidations.
Last month, it was announced that the San Bernardino County Superior Court will open limited service in Needles to address traffic and non-traffic infraction matters. The Needles Clerk’s Office will be open to the public on the first Friday of each month during the business hours of 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The Needles Court District is to be housed at 1111 Bailey Avenue, and will provide limited services including non-cash payments, traffic school sign-ups, payment extension and court date scheduling. This will be supported by remote video proceedings with a judge sitting in the Barstow District. According to the State of California, “Additional services will be provided gradually as resources become available.”
In addition, the Victor Valley Transit Authority Route 200 will continue to make one round-trip each Friday, departing from Needles, traveling to Barstow in the morning and returning to Needles in the afternoon for those individuals who wish to appear at the Barstow District.
According to the State of California, “This ongoing collaboration between the San Bernardino Superior Court, Needles City Council members and Robert Lovingood, San Bernrdino County First District Supervisor, represents a continuing effort to restore services that were reduced or eliminated due to budget cuts over the last several years.”
“Bringing video court proceedings and other services to Needles will save countless hours of travel time and increase convenience for Needles residents,” San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Chairman Robert A. Lovingood said. “We have long advocated at the state level for increased services for Needles. It’s great to see this new development and the focused, ongoing effort of restoring more services for the community of Needles and surrounding areas.”

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