Family Cases Lose Out In Overburdened Ca. Court


San Bernardino County, Ca., judges preside over Southern California’s highest average caseload, says the Los Angeles Times. It means trial delays, long lines at courthouses, and frustration for attorneys and clients. In the 12-month period through June 2003, more than 440,000 criminal and civil cases were filed in the county, the equivalent of nearly 6,000 filings per judge. Judges statewide preside over an average of about 4,000 case per year.

To keep up with the workload, the state Judicial Council has said that 150 new judges should be appointed statewide over the next three years, with 22 of those going to San Bernardino County, the largest number for any county. The mounting caseloads in San Bernardino County are due to its soaring population. The county’s judges say they must hasten the judicial process, sometimes robbing lawyers, defendants and plaintiffs of the time to thoroughly present their cases. “We get the job done,” said Peter Norell, presiding judge for the county’s Superior Courts. “But we are not doing what we ought to do for the public.” The biggest delays are for those involved in family law disputes, including divorces and child custody battles. Criminal matters take precedence because the law requires that suspects go to trial within 30 days, and civil lawsuits are often settled out of court, using private mediators. That leaves family law disputes, which don’t often have the mediation option, at the bottom of the judicial hierarchy.


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