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Guest Contributor
Assemblyman Russ Bogh

Inland Judicial Crisis
Where are the judges?…
[Russ Bogh] 1/25/06

New York Supreme Court Presiding Judge Francis T. Murphy once warned, "No more essential duty of government exists than the protection of the lives of its people. Fail in this, and we fail in everything."

Nowhere is this failure more evident today than in the Inland Empire, where a besieged legal system struggles to render justice in an effective and timely manner.

Riverside and San Bernardino counties' exponential growth has overwhelmed the region's legal system during a period when potential state funding for courts was squandered on mismanaged agencies, feel-good legislation and excessive debt payments. Riverside County needs at least 58 new full-time judges. The crisis is not unique to the region, however; California is short at least 350 judges to handle its current criminal and civil caseloads.

In Riverside County, felony filings have escalated 40 percent since 1999, jumping from 12,000 to almost 18,000 cases in 2005. To meet this demand, each judge on the bench today would have to resolve 260 cases -- one a day for every weekday in the year, forgoing sickness, vacation and holidays. These cases run the gauntlet: armed robbery, vehicular manslaughter, attempted homicide, sexual battery, and manufacture and distribution of illicit substances.

A felony prosecution involves testimony of witnesses and independent experts; it cannot be herded through a self-serve checkout line. Nor can it be shrugged off. The Constitution guarantees an individual the right to a fair and speedy trial. To prevent this backlog from growing worse, district attorneys may be pressured either to plea bargain with an offender -- which encourages a repeat of the abhorrent behavior -- or drop charges altogether.

This backlog snowballs, delaying an ever-escalating number of misdemeanor cases. This, in turn, delays justice in family law and civil cases. Murphy's prophesy is reality in Riverside County, which added three judges during a time when its population jumped 55 percent.

As a society, we cannot expect fair and equitable justice to be served under such unrealistic expectations. This state has the money necessary to hire new judges. It misses the political will to solve this crisis.

In a spirit of bipartisanship, I cosponsored SB 56 with Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, so that 150 judges could be hired over the next three years. Instead, California's special interests pressured their allies in the Legislature to bury the bill in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, seeing it as a threat to funding for their pet projects. Over the past year, however, members of the Inland Empire Caucus have been championing the need for new judges. As a result, the governor's 2005-06 budget is likely to include funding for additional judicial slots. This additional funding will be another victory for the Inland Empire Caucus, formed last year to deal with such issues. I look forward to working in a bipartisan fashion to achieve more legislative success for the people of the Inland Empire. CRO

Russ Bogh, R-Cherry Valley, represents the 65th District in the California Assembly.





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