Monday, June 18, 2001
Superior Court Proper Forum for Misdemeanor Habeas Corpus Petition, Appeals Court Rules
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Court unification does not strip superior courts of jurisdiction to consider habeas corpus petitions arising from misdemeanor prosecutions, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
In denying the writ petition of probationer Thomas Ramirez, Div. Three ruled that Ramirez and defendants like him should not file directly in the Court of Appeal, but in Los Angeles Superior Court Dept. 70—the same place such petitions were heard when they were appealed from the county’s municipal courts.
Municipal courts in Los Angeles County were eliminated early last year in unification with the Superior Court. Most California trial courts had already unified, and the few remaining municipal courts around the state have since been absorbed by superior courts.
Misdemeanors are now tried around the state by Superior Court judges. In Los Angeles and most other large counties, a virtual municipal court remains intact to accord the constitutional and statutory guarantees reserved for misdemeanants.
Ramirez pled no contest in municipal court in 1995 to an assault with deadly weapon charge, and his probation continued to be monitored in municipal court over the next five years. But in January 2000, with unification, his case became a Superior Court case.
Prosecutors agreed with Ramirez that his probationary period had expired by operation of law and that the now-Superior Court judge who ordered probation revoked lacked jurisdiction to do so. But they challenged Ramirez’s petition to the Court of Appeal.
Ramirez asserted that it would be improper to seek review in the Superior Court of a Superior Court order, and that the only place to take his petition was the Court of Appeal.
Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein acknowledged that the judge of one court cannot overrule another judge of the same court. But she noted that the state Constitution granted original jurisdiction to superior courts and their judges in habeas proceedings, and that there is a difference between habeas jurisdiction and appellate jurisdiction.
“If, as Ramirez argues, one superior court judge is always precluded from reviewing the ruling of another superior court judge, in no case, whether a misdemeanor or felony, may the superior court exercise its habeas jurisdiction,” Klein said. “We conclude that because the California Constitution specifically vests the superior courts with original jurisdiction in habeas proceedings, Ramirez’s concern that the superior court lacks jurisdiction to entertain his habeas petition is unfounded.”
Ramirez argued that the Superior Court’s three-judge Appellate Division lacks habeas jurisdiction because it would be reviewing decisions made by some other judge on the very same court. But Klein noted that it was not the Appellate Division, but simply one of its judges, rotating into an entirely separate Dept. 70, who hears the petitions.
The case is In re Ramirez, B144665.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company