Larry Stirling is a former State Senator and Retired
Superior Court Judge
Brown Was Right
Unify the courts and end the duplication...
[Larry Stirling] 10/28/03
Frank Brown is a distinguished San Diego superior court judge.
Prior to that, he was a prosecuting deputy district attorney.
And prior to that, as was his equally famous father A.D. Brown,
Frank Brown was a San Diego police officer.
I differed over the issue of "court unification."
have always been one to welcome and actively sponsor reforms
to make government more efficient internally and more effective
So, in 1980,
when a group of four El Cajon Municipal Court judges approached
me as the State Assembly
member for East
County, I was pleased to learn that they were not just
seeking, what every other government representative seeks,
As a result
of the "El Cajon Experiment," these
four judges displayed practical proof that "unification" would
substantially improve the internal efficiency of the
days, California sported three separate levels of trial courts:
Justice Courts handled infractions
time); Municipal Courts handled misdemeanors (up
to one year in jail)
and minor civil cases; and Superior Courts exercised
all remaining judicial power on behalf of the State
court systems statewide equaled three separate bureaucracies,
sets of rules, legal
and wastefully on and on.
seemed to be self-evident. Unify the courts into one jurisdiction.
way, the presiding
would be free
to reallocate judicial resources throughout the
jurisdiction to address backlogs.
the taxpayers would be relieved of very substantial waste
and "triplification." Further,
the public could get a full range of services at most any
court facility in
So, in 1981,
I placed a constitutional amendment on the state ballot to
unify the municipal
and superior courts
the measure failed that year, the proposed constitutional amendment
statewide debate about
the value of the notion.
I successfully carried to the statewide ballot a more modest
to fold justice
The voters approved.
among Brown, me and the rest of the judges on both benches
a result of Sen.
General) Bill Lockyer's successful
proposal to unify the two courts was almost the same as my
one very important
created a "county
option" that allowed
for local implementation only if
approved by a vote of the judges in that county: a novel solution.
those discussions, Brown (and
others) contended that if the courts
were "unified," the people
served by the Municipal Court would
be left behind.
was that if all judges were "superior" they
would not want to deal with infractions
and misdemeanors and the other
matters dealt with by the Municipal
Courts that make
up the vast bulk of the workload
of the now unified San Diego
The San Diego
Superior Court, in a recent year, had about 600,000
numbers are not precise,
perspective is correct.)
that total, around 80 percent of the cases were "criminal." And
approximately 80 percent
of criminal cases were infractions.
are by and large
traffic violations, and
biggest bulk of the
workload for the
court. And traffic
adjudication is significant
to public safety and results
annually. It is an important
some very brief orientation visits, Superior
handle none of those
Of the balance,
an estimated 80 percent of the cases
are misdemeanors. Most
misdemeanors "settle" during
the arraignment or
With very few
Court judges do not
handle those cases.
On the "civil
side," the most
common cases, small
claims and landlord-tenant
disputes, are usually
not handled by elected
and in spite of the huge
them the title
of "commissioner." The
majority of the
of numbers of cases.
this occurs even
I know you
have always heard: "The courts are really backed
up and the only
reason we have commissioners is to help with the overload." That
is simply not true.
are hired to do the
cut out the
to do the
job that they were
answer is that person
are good administrative
and others were
2003 Larry Stirling