Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Family Court to Remain Open in Riverside County

Dismissal of Misdemeanors Because No Courtroom Was Available is Upheld

People v. Cole, Appellate Division, Riverside County (July 25, 2008, APP-004096)

Civil procedure, in the form of civil trials, has been the intermittent collateral damage in the court congestion crisis in Riverside County. The crisis itself arises out of the backlog of criminal cases in the county and has led to some conflict between the District Attorney and the Superior Court Judges. Now, in a development that brings no comfort to those engaged in traditional civil actions, but that may well be in the best interests of the people of Riverside County, a three judge panel has upheld the decision of a trial court judge not to give precedence to criminal cases in the family, probate, traffic, small claims and juvenile courts.

Because these were appeals from misdemeanor charges the decision was made by the Appellate Division. The three judge panel was made up of specially assigned Orange County Superior Court Judges because all of the Riverside County judges had disqualified themselves on the grounds that the issue was one of their court's policy.

Late in the afternoon on Friday, January 26, 2007 two misdemeanor prosecutions came before the court on the last day that they could be brought to trial. During an extended discussion with the deputy district attorney about possible available courtrooms, the trial judge pointed out that because of the backlog in criminal cases, the court had completely eliminated all civil trials.

Since January, 2007 that backlog has been significantly reduced by a strike team of judges sent to Riverside by Chief Justice George. However the strike team is now gone and the funding for seven new judgeships has been postponed for a year because of the state budget crisis. In July, 2008 twenty-two criminal cases were dismissed because there was no judge available to hear them. For those seeking civil trials, the situation remains bleak.

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