Study: Miami Immigration Court Is Most Lenient In Nation

The clearinghouse that tracks immigration court backlog says that some places are better than others for immigrations hoping remain in the United States. The Miami Herald reports that’s “… because judges at the Miami immigration court are deemed among the most lenient toward immigrants in the country… the report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University says that the Miami immigration court is in the top five immigration courts in the country whose judges are more likely to allow immigrants to stay in the country despite deportation orders sought by government trial attorneys representing the Department of Homeland Security.

According to the TRAC study, the Phoenix immigration court ranks No. 1 with “the highest proportion of individuals who were allowed to stay.” In second place was the New York immigration court, followed by Denver in third, San Antonio in fourth and then Miami in fifth, according to the study.

See the TRAC research here.

Read the newspaper’s story here: How lenient are Miami immigration judges? A study ranks the court

Private-Prison Phase-Out Will Not Apply To Immigration Jails

The much-heralded phase-out of privately run federal prisons had many wondering if that means changes in how immigrants are held by the Department of Justice. It will not, and the New Orleans website does a good job of breaking down the issue, which is partly because immigration jails are really “civil” vs. “criminal” charges.
NOLA backgrounds that “… the policy shift has no bearing on the private operation of immigrant detention facilities. As of December, 62 percent of the 34,000 beds for people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are in privately-run facilities. They are under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Justice. The vast majority of privately-run prisons in the U.S. are at the state level, and will be unaffected by the DOJ announcement. As of 2014 they housed 91,244 state prisoners, or 6.8 percent of the total state prison population, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

CA Court Interpreter Funding Boost Key to Access to Justice

In states like California where roughly 44 percent of residents speak a language other than English, court interpreters are a key component to reasonably equitable justice. Just last week, we noted the backlog of California immigration cases had trumped 500,000 making court interpreters a sought after commodity.

The LA Times Reports (8/9/16): Aldo Waykam, a Mayan language interpreter, meets recently with Vinicio Nicolas, 15, outside the federal immigration court in Anaheim before Vinicio's asylum hearing. Vinicio speaks Kanjobal, the language used in his village in the highlands of Guatemala. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The LA Times Reports (8/9/16): Aldo Waykam, a Mayan language interpreter, meets recently with Vinicio Nicolas, 15, outside the federal immigration court in Anaheim before Vinicio’s asylum hearing. Vinicio speaks Kanjobal, the language used in his village in the highlands of Guatemala. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Earlier this month, the LA Times reported extensively on the challenge of Border Kids whose native language is Mayan.  Many of these kids are coming in from countries such as Guatemala to escape gang violence epidemic with the drug cartels.

They report, “Spoken by almost 80,000 people in mostly rural municipalities in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, Kanjobal is common in places like Santa Eulalia… but rare everywhere else.”

As with other court funding issues; however, funding has been short. The shortages have real consequences, according to the Times Report, “The shortage of interpreters is leading to a host of issues. Often, judges delay immigration hearings until one is found. At times, asylum seekers are deported even if they have a strong case because a qualified interpreter cannot be found in time. And unlike in immigration court, interpreters aren’t provided for free during asylum hearings.”

Gov. Jerry Brown just signed into law the California budget which includes nearly a 10 percent increase in funds for court interpreters, reports, bringing the total over $103 million. This is a major development considering the Justice Index placed California in 30th place out of 52 for language access in its 2016 report.

The money isn’t going into a vacuum either, it appears. The reporter notes, “The numbers are huge. A 2015 report by the Judicial Council of California showed that court interpreters in the state provided a total of 254,000 service days from 2012–13.”

As other states struggle with the Border Kids crisis, court interpreter funding will likely become an ever present issue demanding more attention.

California budget raid jeopardizes Modesto courthouse construction funding

A decision by California lawmakers to raid $1.4 billion from the judicial system during the budget crisis is having a direct impact on a $267 million courthouse construction project in Modesto, according to the ModBee. With 23 courthouse construction projects in the works across the state, the budget raid could have implications well beyond the city borders.

As budgets have become constrained, courthouses have closed, forcing existing courthouses to renovate to accommodate the influx of new cases. Brandi Christensen, facilities support service manager for Stanislaus County Superior Court told the Bee, “We don’t have an inch to move. Our courtrooms are packed every day.”

In addition to lack of space, many courthouses have fallen into deep disrepair from age. In the case of the Modesto courthouse, the Bee reports, “The most modern part of the current courthouse — which houses the courtrooms — was built in 1960. The other half of the courthouse was built in 1871 and remodeled in 1939. The courthouse has no holding cells for inmates, who are kept in jury rooms before their court appearances.”

The Judicial Council of California’s Court Facilities Advisory Committee met on June 28th in San Francisco to go over courthouse construction funding, and found it is coming up short. Very short. The Council directed the staff to develop funding recommendations, in concert with  the Department of Finance, in advance of their next meeting August 4th.

We’ll continue to follow the story, and you can get caught up with full details at the full Modesto Bee article here.

California Still Dealing With Epic Failure On Case Management System

California Gov. Jerry Brown is seeking another $12.5 million to help several courts update case management software, a situation that dates back to an epic failure to upgrade the entire state. That project was terminated in 2012 amid what The Courthouse News in L.A. called “damning criticism from legislators, trial judges, court employees and union leaders as a costly and technologically unwieldy boondoggle.” But several counties actually started using the failing system, and they want to now upgrade with new vendors.

The tech debacle was front-and-center as massive budget cuts brought some of the more severe justice rationing to the Golden State. Read the latest at CN here:

CNS – Budget Revise Gives Calif. Courts $12.4 Million More

Proposed California Bill May Be Life Line for Court Budget Cuts

As court funding continues its downward slide, one bit of good news for California courts is a potential policy reversal on rainy day funds. With the Great Recession, lawmakers were seeking every possible penny to pinch. As such, they limited the judicial system’s ability to squirrel away money in their rainy day fund when they came in under budget. The fund was limited to just one percent of their unspent dollars.

Courthouse News reports the policy has a good chance of changing during the new budget. They report, “The new bill now moving through the Assembly, AB 2458, would overturn that 2013 law and return to the previous status quo, allowing trial courts to keep a rainy-day fund for expenses over and above the day-to-day operation of the court, such as technology projects and emergencies.”

Court budgets have been slashed across the country, but California has seen a significant number of courthouses actually close.

The bill’s sponsor, Assembly Member Jay Olbernolte, is notably a Republican who says he’s seen first hand the effect courthouse closing can have on a community. Per the interview with Courthouse News:

“My first official act as mayor was to take a phone call from the presiding judge of the San Bernardino County court informing me that the courthouse in Big Bear Lake was to be closed. Barstow, Needles and Twin Peaks were also being closed,” he said in an interview. “Through the ensuing years I saw firsthand the impact that a lack of access to justice could have. That’s given me a deeper appreciation for what our courts do,” he said.

Read the full story at Courthouse News.

California Continues Judicial Rationing Game, Down About 270 Judges

California seems committed to continuing its judicial rationing shell game, with the state’s policy-setting Judicial Council’s “committee on legislation” voting to support a controversial law allowing the council to move five vacant judgeships from one county to another.

“It’s safe to say that the presiding judges statewide are divided on this issue,” Presiding Judge Brian McCabe of Merced County, who represents the state’s 58 presiding judges as chair of the council’s Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee, told The Courthouse News. He told the legislation committee that he had polled the state’s presiding judges and received some “very vehement” opposition to the idea. “There are a number of competing interests and concerns… the concern is this is a new arena we are stepping into, unprecedented, and it has people nervous.”

You think? California Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan in his 2016-17 budget package calls for moving five vacant judicial positions. The governor has been quoted saying that “… this will shift judgeships where the workload is highest without needing to increase the overall number of judges.” And Brown has been emphatic that these vacant judgeships need to be moved before he will agree to fund any new positions.

The CN notes how much of a drop in the judicial justice bucket this is, backgrounding that: “The understanding is that this will involve taking two open positions from Alameda County and three from Santa Clara County, and giving two to Riverside County, two to San Bernardino County and one to Kern County. All three south-state counties are in serious need, though nearly all judges agree that with the state down by about 270 positions every court is in desperate need of more judges.”

Read the CN’s excellent reporting here: CNS – Plan to Reallocate Judgeships Moves Ahead

Court Budgets Ravaged in CT

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is also seeking to eliminate $50 million in a new sales-tax, revenue-sharing plan with cities and towns, while Democrats are battling to keep enough funding to ensure that property taxes on cars are cut in high-tax cities like Hartford and New Britain. (Michael Dwyer / AP)

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is also seeking to eliminate $50 million in a new sales-tax, revenue-sharing plan with cities and towns, while Democrats are battling to keep enough funding to ensure that property taxes on cars are cut in high-tax cities like Hartford and New Britain. (Michael Dwyer / AP)

We reported earlier this week that Arizona’s courts are in a political fight right now, but across the country in Connecticut, the judicial system is bracing for impact.

The Hartford Courant reports, “…more than 600 workers could be laid off in the judicial branch if Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s latest budget proposal is approved, officials said. Of those, 110 workers will receive layoff notices Thursday as the courts prepare for a worst-case scenario of “widespread courthouse closings and consolidations,” officials said.”

We have seen in a variety of other locations that courthouse closings often disproportionately impact access of justice for low income people. The Chief Court Administrator wrote a letter to the Governor this week decrying the cuts, saying “This reduction is both unprecedented and catastrophic in its consequences.”

Whether these cuts will take root – or whether low income people will be impacted – remains to be seen. We’ll be following the story along, and you can do so here at the Hartford Courant.

California Mourns the Loss of A Judicial Giant, Richard Mosk

The California Courts lost another great judge this week. Richard M. Mosk served on the California Court of Appeal, but was renowned for a career that spanned three decades of public service working on a host of high profile commissions.

While serving on the Warren Commission, Mosk had the rather unique task of directly investigating the background of Lee Harvey Oswald.

The LA Times reports: “He firmly believed that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman,” said Matthew Mosk, his son and an ABC News producer. “He did not want to see history distorted by conspiracy theories.”

Mosk also served on Iran-US Claims Tribunal at The Hague. The Tribunal was created following the hostage crisis to resolve issues between the two countries.

The Times reports, “Richard Mosk also served on the Christopher Commission — which investigated the LAPD in the wake of the Rodney King beating — the Los Angeles Board of Inquiry on Brush Fires, the Los Angeles Commission on Judicial Procedures, the L.A. County Law Library board and the Stanford Athletic Board. He also was on the boards of the California Museum of Science and Industry and Town Hall California.”

At CCM, we send our deepest condolences to his family and friends who are mourning his passing, and we salute a long-standing public servant of the California Courts

Florida Court District Says Divorce Hearing Can Take A Year

Courts nationwide are facing serious rationing, but a Tampa-area regional justice system is offering some details of its crisis. The info came as county commissioners are debating new facilities. But the area’s chief judge says that won’t help much because “… we can build additional courtrooms but nothing’s going to happen unless we have more judges to oversee them… we haven’t had a new judge in 10 years. Get the (state) Legislature to give us more judges.”

At issue is Florida’s 6th Judicial Circuit, which serves fast-goring Pasco and Pinellas counties The Tampa Bay Tribune explained that the district is “Florida’s third-largest court system. It has 69 judges to oversee all criminal, civil, appellate, family, traffic and small claims court cases. There are seven county court judges and 13 circuit judges assigned to handle cases at the New Port Richey and Dade City courthouses. In 2013 — the most recent figures available — those 20 Pasco County judges handled 24,069 circuit court cases and 41,733 county court cases. And the caseload keeps growing.”

One judge told county officials that it takes a year just to get a hearing on a divorce case

See more at the Tampa Tribune.