Monday, September 25, 2006
Governor Signs Bill Creating 50 New Superior Court Judgeships
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Friday signed legislation that will create 50 new superior court judgeships throughout the state.
SB 56, by Sen. Joseph Dunn, D-Garden Grove, will take effect Jan. 1, although it is unknown when the judges will actually be appointed. The bill passed both houses unanimously following negotiations that became contentious amid complaints by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, that Schwarzenegger has not appointed enough minority judges.
Representatives of the Judicial Council and California Judges Association had hoped to persuade lawmakers to authorize 150 new positions over three years, as well as the conversion, over an unspecified period of time, of 161 subordinate judicial officer positions to judgeships.
But after the Assembly eliminated all but 25 judgeships from the bill, advocates had to scramble just to restore the remaining 25 positions for this year. The final compromise—which won a unanimous vote in both houses—accomplishes that task, while providing for future studies of the state’s judicial needs.
Judicial Council Study
It also includes provisions for the collection of information regarding the ethnicity of judicial applicants, which will be used to determine whether the appointments reflect the diversity of the applicant pool.
The bill provides that the 50 positions be distributed according to a 2004 update of an earlier Judicial Council study, which means that San Bernardino County will get eight new judges; Riverside seven; Sacramento five; Fresno four; San Joaquin and Stanislaus three each; Kern, Los Angeles, Madera, Merced, Sonoma, and Tulare two each; and Butte, Contra Costa, Monterey, Orange, Placer, Shasta, Solano, and Ventura one each.
Judicial Council lobbyist Kate Howard explained that although the bill becomes law Jan. 1, the positions are not funded until June 1 of next year. The governor, however, can begin making appointments before that.
Howard told the MetNews she was “absolutely thrilled” that the bill will become law, but said the council made it clear when the compromise was reached that it intends to go back to the Legislature next year to seek the remaining positions.
Need ‘Quite Clear’
Howard said she was optimistic that the conversion of the commissioner and referee positions would be addressed next year. She explained that the differences between the salaries now being paid to those officers and those paid to judges could be met through the existing budget process, so that the conversion carries no new cost to the state.
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge William MacLaughlin said he was glad the governor signed the bill, because “the need of these other counties was quite clear.” But the addition of two positions will not do much for Los Angeles, he said, especially since the new judges will not join the court before the middle of next year.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company