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  • CASE OVERLOAD

    Report underscores need in local courts

    County ranked last in concluding felony cases within 12 months
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    • BY THE NUMBERS

      Criminal-specific filings in San Bernardino County during fiscal year 2012-13:
      327,075 — Total
      19,729 — Felonies
      32,574 — Misdemeanors (non-traffic)
      10,1...

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      BY THE NUMBERS

      Criminal-specific filings in San Bernardino County during fiscal year 2012-13:

      327,075 — Total

      19,729 — Felonies

      32,574 — Misdemeanors (non-traffic)

      10,155 — Infractions (non-traffic)

      42,211 — Misdemeanors (traffic)

      222,406 — Infractions (traffic)

      Source: Judicial Council of California’s 2014 Court Statistics Report

  • Likely reinforcing the need for more support in local courts to deal with heavy caseloads, a state judiciary report on Tuesday said San Bernardino County kept more of its felony cases on the docket after 12 months than any other reporting county in California during fiscal year 2012-13.
    The county disposed of 53 percent of felony cases in less than 12 months, well below the 89 percent reported statewide, according to the 2014 Court Statistics Report published by the Judicial Council of California.
    Only one other county, Santa Clara (55), reported less than 60 percent in that category. Twelve of the state’s 58 counties didn’t report data in that category at all. The category consists of cases in which defendants were held to answer or were certified on guilty pleas, and the processing time is based on time from first appearance to final disposition.
    The report also shows that county courtrooms are dealing with massive caseloads. The county had 4,584 total cases filed per judicial position during that fiscal year. By comparison, the state average was 3,817 cases filed per judicial position.
    The discrepancy underscores the dire situation facing the county court system, which may be the most judicially under-served in the state, according to the Judicial Council.
    Routine budget cuts led last year to shuttered courthouses in Barstow, Big Bear, Needles and Chino. The Judicial Council has said the county needs nine more judges to effectively handle mounting caseloads, but it has proven to be an uphill battle so far to secure the appropriate money to fund those positions.
    The county employed 86 judges at the end of last year, but local court officials have said caseloads justify employing 156.
    The cases filed-per-judicial position during fiscal year 2012-13 ranks eighth worst among all counties in California. As a whole, the county handled 426,327 cases during the fiscal year.
    Christina Volkers, the court executive officer for the county’s Superior Court, said the figures released Tuesday were not surprising.
    “It makes sense given the reduced funding the courts endured, the courthouse closures and the lack of judicial officers,” Volkers said.
    Compounding the issue, a $22 million shortfall in state trial court revenue has spurred officials to seek emergency funding. Equally as tough, Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget allocation this year to the state judiciary was less than expected.
    “We did not even receive enough to tread water per (Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye’s) blueprint,” Volkers said.
    California saw 7.7 million cases total — a 9.7 percent decrease from the previous year, according to the report.
    Still, felony filings in California increased 7 percent from the year prior; cases involving mental health were up by 3 percent; and cases involving personal injury, property damage and wrongful death were up by 2 and 3 percent, according to the report.
    “The trend in court filings is worrisome,” Justice Douglas Miller, chair of the Judicial Council’s Executive and Planning Committee, said in a written statement. “It coincides with two other trends that have occurred as a result of budget cuts to the judicial branch: the increase in court filing fees to offset General Fund budget cuts and closure of courthouses and/or reduction of hours at our courthouses. It’s something that we in the judicial branch are very concerned about.”
    Meanwhile, nearby Riverside County ranked second-worst in California with 5,120 cases filed-per-judicial position during fiscal year 2012-13, according to the report. Only Imperial County maintained a more imbalanced ratio.
    Shea Johnson may be reached at 760-955-5368 or SJohnson@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DP_Shea.
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