Tuesday, September 5, 2006
California Legislature Approves Legislation Creating 50 New Judgeships, Requiring Court Interpreters
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Legislature has approved legislation that would create 50 new Superior Court judgeships throughout the state, ease the transfer of seismically-deficient courthouses to the state so that repairs can be made, and require interpreters in civil cases.
The Senate last week approved Assembly amendments to several court-related bills including SB 56, by Sen. Joseph Dunn, D-Garden Grove, creating the new judgeships.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George said in a release Friday:
“I applaud the Legislature for its leadership in passing these important measures that will add critically-needed judgeships to assist our courts in providing timely and effective justice to the people of California.”
Administrative Director of the California Courts William C. Vickrey said:
“Legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle and the Governor’s Office and his staff deserve tremendous credit for their support of legislation to increase the number of trial court judgeships and facilitate the transfer of courthouse —both are vital to the administration of justice in California. Court and bar leaders across the state worked tirelessly for these reforms that are a major step toward ensuring that access to justice is a reality for all in California.”
SB 56, which received a 67-0 vote in the Assembly and a 38-0 vote in the Senate, will create 50 new judgeships during fiscal year 2006-2007. The judgeships will be allocated according to criteria set forth in the Judicial Council’s Judgeship Needs Study.
That study identified San Bernardino, Riverside, Fresno and Sacramento counties as having the greatest need for new judges, and recommended they receive more than one-quarter of the new positions. It recommended that Los Angeles County receive seven new judgeships over three years.
Presiding Judge Sharon Waters, of the Superior Court of Riverside County, who chairs the Judicial Council’s Trial Court Presiding Judges Committee, said:
“Senate Bill 56 will go a long way to help ease the severe backlog of criminal and civil cases in jurisdictions that have experienced major population and caseload growth such as Riverside County. I extend my thanks and appreciation to the Legislature and Governor’s Office for their leadership on this issue.”
Lynn Holton, spokesperson for the Judicial Council said:
“The ramifications of the judgeship shortage have been far-reaching, including a decrease in the public’s access to the courts, an unstable business climate, and increasing case backlogs in some courts that inhibit timely and equitable justice.”
The Senate also approved Assembly changes to SB 10, also introduced by Dunn, which revises the Trial Court Facilities Act to allow certain seismically deficient courthouse facilities to be transferred to the state so long as counties retain liability for earthquake-related damage.
Courthouses’ seismic ratings have created an impasse in the transfer of facilities from the counties to the state. Transfers must precede any state-funded courthouse improvement or new construction replacement projects intended for that facility. SB 10 will allow for the implementation of the Judicial Council’s Trial Court Five-Year Capital Outlay Plan to address deficient security, access, and life safety systems in California trial court facilities.
“The judicial branch also is extremely grateful for the passage of legislation that will help ease the transfer of courthouses to the state under the Trial Court Facilities Act, one of the most significant court reforms in recent history.”
The Legislature also passed AB  2302, by Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, which  requires courts to provide court interpreters  in civil cases.  The bill calls for a  priority list based on whether the litigant  has an attorney or  receives a fee waiver and by case type.  If signed into law, the bill will take effect on July 1, 2007 and will limit  the amount of expenditures for this purpose  in 2007-08 to $10 million.
The measure is designed to assist the nearly seven million Californians who do not speak English and who need interpreters to meaningfully represent themselves in civil actions that affect their fundamental rights, such as domestic violence and family law actions.
The Legislature also approved a package of four bills designed to improve the administration of probate conservatorship cases in the trial courts.
Earlier this summer, the Legislature approved a $3.4 billion operating budget for trial and appellate courts for fiscal year 2006-2007 and an 8.5 percent pay increase for California judges effective January 1, 2007, which has not yet been funded.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company