The Inland Empire’s court shortage, the worst in the state, is helped by the Judicial Council’s vote this month to allocate judgeship funding.
The next fiscal year’s state budget provides an additional $42.3 million for 23 approved but previously unfunded superior court judgeships, 10 of which are heading to the Inland Empire: San Bernardino Superior Court will get six and Riverside Superior Court will get four, the Judicial Council decided, at its July 15 meeting.
Despite the new budget and recent appointments, Riverside and San Bernardino superior courts will each need almost 30 more judges before they are sufficiently equipped to handle their workload determined by a 2020 Judicial Council report. Only five of California’s other 52 counties need more than 10 judges to meet their workload.
The budget also increased funding by $184 million for trial court operations. $100 million is to be allocated for fiscal equity, while the remaining $84.2 million is to adjust for statewide inflation. A separate $151 million increase in funding is to backfill expected revenue decline. And another $42.7 million increase is allocated for information-technology initiatives. The budget also provides $15 million to expand lactation facilities in courthouses, $20 million for the next three years to expand the Court Appointed Special Advocate program expansion, and $39 million for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s CARE Court program.
“This year’s budget is the largest amount of sustained, ongoing funding in judicial branch history,” said Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. “The funds the Governor and the Legislature have so generously supplied to the courts will help us deliver vital services to the people of California.”
Coming to Riverside, San Bernardino counties
Riverside Superior Court is listed as receiving $5 million from the $100 million equity funding. It will also receive $2 million from the new judgeship funding, $22,000 for new non-sheriff security and $4 million to offset civil assessment losses.
San Bernardino Superior Court is listed as receiving $16 million in equity funding, $2 million in new judge funding, $38,000 in new non-sheriff security, and $4 million to offset civil assessment losses.
Riverside Superior Court needed 30 more judges, and San Bernardino Superior Court 43, to adequately handle their caseloads.From a 2020 Judicial Council analysis
In total, Riverside will receive $133 million, and San Bernardino will receive $140 million. The Judicial Council’s agenda claims that both courts will operate at 91% funding capacity after these allocations.
Judge funding important, but not enough
The judgeship funding finishes up a 14-year long wait.
Fifty judgeships were created in 2007, but, due to the recession, half of them were not funded until this budget allocation, said Riverside Superior Presiding Judge John Monterosso.
Monterosso said Newsom has been supportive of the judiciary, and that his work on the budget is a major help, but that the court will need to continue lobbying both for additional judgeships, and additional funding, until the court gains enough judges to match its workload.
According to a 2020 Judicial Council analysis, Riverside Superior Court needed 30 more judges, and San Bernardino Superior Court 43, to adequately handle their caseloads.
That’s far above other courts: The next superior court on the list, Sacramento Superior Court, needs only 13 more judges.
Monterosso said the combined judicial needs of Riverside and San Bernardino counties is extreme.
“Twelve percent of the population of California, (which is the percentage of Californians who live in the Inland Empire), is woefully underjudged, and that should be shocking to anyone who lives in the Inland Empire,” Monterosso said.
Even if the legislature and the governor work together to create and fund those judgeships, the court could still have immediate vacancies. The governor may also need to appoint some of the newly funded judgeships, and the recently elected judges will not be sworn in until January.
Newsom has appointed nine judges to IE courts since March.
If Gov. Gavin Newsom appoints all 15 of San Bernardino’s funded judgeships the county would be 33rd in the state instead of 45th out of 58 counties. If all five of Riverside’s funded judgeships are appointed, the county’s rate would remain at the 56th level of the state.
On May 2, he appointed Court Commissioner Joni Sinclair to a judgeship in San Bernardino Superior Court. On July 1, he further appointed attorneys Damian Garcia and Kory Mathewson. On March 25, he appointed attorney Manuel Bustamante and Public Defender Valerie Navarro to Riverside Superior Court. Then on July 1, he appointed Court Commissioners Walter Kubelun and Joshlyn Pulliam, and attorneys Mona Nemat and Jerry Yang.
Judges to fill the newly funded positions either need to be appointed by the governor or, if the newly created position’s election date is close, be elected by voters.
Where does that leave the IE?
With the newly funded positions, and the July 1 appointments of Garcia and Mathewson, San Bernardino Superior Court has 13 funded but vacant judgeships. Two more judges are expected to retire in July, which would raise the vacancy to 15, according to San Bernardino Presiding Judge Glenn Yabuno.
If Gov. Gavin Newsom appoints all 15 of San Bernardino’s funded judgeships, the filing to judge rate would drop from 2,707 to 2,313, and the county would be 33rd in the state instead of 45th out of 58 counties.
Riverside Superior Court has five funded judge vacancies, including the four added by the budget.
If all of Riverside’s funded judgeships are appointed, the county’s rate would remain at the 56th level of the state, but decrease to 3,178 filings per judge.[/wlm_private]