California court backlogs persist in civil, criminal arenas

Photo Credit: Don Bartletti, Los Angeles Times as reported on 5/10/14.

Photo Credit: Don Bartletti, Los Angeles Times as reported on 5/10/14.

Budget cuts have contributed to delays in the processing of civil cases in California Superior Courts, a television news investigation revealed.

NBC Bay Area reported on the problem five years ago, confirming a situation covered by the state’s other major media.

And earlier this year, the news station revisited the crisis, noting that criminal cases also are caught up in the backlog.

“An NBC Bay Area analysis of state court disposition data shows thousands of felony criminal cases have been delayed for years, and sometimes even decades, in jurisdictions around California,” NBC Bay Area reported in February. “The analysis shows Santa Clara County Superior Court and San Francisco County Superior Court have some of the largest criminal court backlogs and the lowest percentage of felony cases resolved within a year in the state.”

In 2013, NBC Bay Area delved into the situation, noting, “Thousands of Californians, including residents of the Bay Area, must wait up to four times as long as normal to get their day in court. Some residents now wait five years or longer to have their civil complaints heard by a judge or jury. Some residents are dying while waiting for their day in court.”

NBC Bay Area conducted an analysis of state Superior Court data, showing delays in every one of the state’s 58 Superior Court systems.

“In all nine Bay Area county Superior Courts, the Unit found longer delays in processing and scheduling of civil cases on their calendars. … The reason: years and years of budget cuts to the court system, the third branch of government, by the state legislature in Sacramento. According to state court officials, across the state, 175 courtrooms have been closed due to budget cuts.”

In 2014, the Los Angeles Times reported on similar backlogs to civil cases.

“Civil cases are facing growing delays in getting to trial, and court closures have forced residents in some counties to drive several hours for an appearance. The effects vary from county to county, with rural regions hit the hardest but no court left unscathed,” the newspaper reported.

Dallas Newspaper Reports From ‘Chaos’ Of Backlogged Immigration Court

NM_01Patnaik1The Dallas Morning News has an important new report on the U.S. Immigration Court backlog, highlighting the case of a Korean man who “… has been in America long enough to raise two sons and run a family-owned doughnut shop in Irving. After years of worrying, he thinks he’s about to find out his fate. Things look promising. But [the judge] sets a merit hearing for Dec. 6, 2017.”

Reporter Dianne Solis makes the point that the man is “… caught in an immigration court system that is bursting with huge caseloads and stressed by a seemingly endless shortage of judges. The U.S. immigration court backlog is at a record 474,000 cases — nearly triple the number from a decade ago. The average case now takes two years to wind through the courts. Some can take five.”
One interesting think is that the report notes that the Immigration Court backlog “annoys both the political left and right. U.S. Rep. Jack Ratcliffe, R-Heath, called it a ‘de facto amnesty’ at a recent congressional hearing. Immigrants live in the U.S. for years waiting to find out whether they can, well, live in the U.S.”

But, the report continues, “… Democrats complain that the courts need more money to operate smoothly. The nation’s immigration courts have long functioned like an orphaned child of the immigration system. The courts’ budget equals about 2 percent of total federal funding for immigration law enforcement this fiscal year. Underfunding the courts ‘undermines justice,’ U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said at the same hearing.”

The DMN also backgrounds that Immigration Court is civil, so there’s no guarantee of an attorney as their would be in criminal court. That’s important because, Solis notes, “… an unrepresented immigrant has a greater chance of losing, of being ordered removed from the U.S. That came into harsh light recently with the surge of Central American mothers with children. In a study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a Syracuse University nonprofit, of such cases, about a quarter of those who were represented by attorneys were allowed to stay in the U.S. Only 1.5 percent of those who didn’t have attorneys were allowed to stay.”
The story is basically an indictment of the whole Immigration Court process with the only good point being a promise of more judges soon if certain things work out.

Read it here: Chaos, backlogs straining immigration courts

WSJ Documents Delay, Crisis In Federal Civil Courts

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that civil suits are piling up in the nation’s federal courts, leading to multiple-year delays in cases involving civil rights, personal injury and disputes over Social Security benefits. The Journal’s Joe Palazzolo notes that “… more than 330,000 such cases were pending as of last October—a record—up nearly 20% since 2004, according to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. The number of cases awaiting resolution for three years or more exceeded 30,000 for the fifth time in the past decade.”
 
Palazzolo singles out the federal court for California’s Eastern District as having  “a particularly deep backlog,” in part because the number of cases filed per judge, 974 last year, is almost twice the national average. More than 14% of civil cases in that district have been pending for three years or more.
 
A key quote from a California judge: “Over the years I’ve received several letters from people indicating, ‘Even if I win this case now, my business has failed because of the delay. How is this justice? [and] the simple answer, which I cannot give them, is this: It is not justice. We know it.”
 
It will surprise few that the challenge boils down to politics. Read the WSJ story here.