November 01, 2015

Judge shortage to persist with governor's veto

By CASSIE MacDUFF / The Press-Enterprise

California’s penny-pinching governor has stiffed the Inland Empire again.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill by state Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, to allot $5 million for seven seats on the bench in Riverside and San Bernardino counties , where judicial caseloads are staggeringly high, and five elsewhere in the state.

According to a recent study, Riverside County needs 127 judges, but has only 76; San Bernardino County needs 143 judges, but has only 86. Judge-rich Santa Clara County, meanwhile, needs only 70 but has 89.

Instead of funding the seats, Brown suggested balancing the workloads and distribution of judgeships across the state. He said he’ll work on a plan with the Judicial Council, the policy-making body of the California courts.

Riverside County Presiding Judge Harold Hopp suggested that when a judge retires in an area with plenty of judges, the vacancy could be shifted to an area in need.

But why not realign quickly, the way Brown realigned the state prison population, shifting them to county jails?

I think I know why: Judges – a privileged population – would probably bellow about being moved from Silicon Valley to the Inland Empire. And I’m sure their protests carry more weight than county jailers’.

Hopp told me he’s offered to work with the Judicial Council. “I’ve made it clear to the Office of Govermental Affairs we’d be delighted to be part of crafting a solution,” he said.

I certainly hope the Inland presiding judges, whose courts are hit hardest by the judge shortage, are included in the discussions.

Court administrators haven’t heard how Brown’s judicial realignment will take place, or when, RivCo courts spokeswoman Marita Ford said.

But given how long 50 vacant judgeships created by a 2007 bill have been awaiting funding, I doubt it will be soon.


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