More Judges, Court Staff Eyed, If There’s More Money

Nobody is saying there will be funding to expand California’s court capacity, but the California Judicial Council has voted that some of any new money will go to provide new judges in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Both communities have been identified as among the state’s very worst in terms of justice access and have, of course, been hard-hit by the half-decade of court budget cutting
The Press-Enterprise newspaper has a good story on the decision by the Judicial Council, the courts administrative branch, and noting that lines outside courthouses are going around the block. The newspaper reports that “…additionally, several years of statewide budget cuts resulted in hundreds of staff reductions for both courts, causing shuttering or reduction of services at courthouses, and redirecting the type of cases some courts can handle… [the] cases affected by the pressure of too few judges include civil and family law courts, where decisions are made about critical issues of custody and child support.

The report cites a significant “new assessment” approved in 2012 that changed the official “judicial needs” for several counties, and Contra Costa County gave up a promised judicial position because of Riverside County’s shortage. The paper also recalls that money-dependent legislation “… originally provided for 150 new judges statewide, in three rollouts of 50 judges each. The first was completed, but the next two were stalled as state funds for the courts were severely cut in the succeeding years… the 2012 assessment says Riverside County has 76 judges, but needs 138. San Bernardino County has 84, but needs 156.

The next-biggest judicial shortage is in Los Angeles County, which needs 41. The P-E also breaks down the money: “Funding for a judgeship includes not just the judge’s salary but also money for court room personnel such as clerks, secretaries and sheriff’s deputies for security. A new judicial position is estimated to cost $1.65 million for the first year, which usually involves establishment of chambers and other one-time costs, and about $909,000 per year thereafter. A beginning judge’s annual salary is $181,292.”