Eastern District of California, reeling under its load, requests additional judgeships

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The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California carries one of the heaviest caseload in the country.  According to the District, the population served has grown 220% in the last four decades.  But no new judgeships have been created in the Eastern District in that time.  Now, the Eastern District is asking for help to address what it warns will be the "catastrophic consequences" of inaction.  Read the letter from the Judges of the Eastern District of California to members of the Senate and House of Representatives here.

At both the state and federal levels in California we demand too much from our courts and provide too little support.  If you happen to have the ear of a member of the Congress or Senate, put in a good word for the Eastern District.  I restate my long-standing position that inadequate support and funding of the judicial branch is an unconstitutional infringement on a co-equal branch of government.

By the way, however bad you imagine the situation is in the Districts with the worst loads, it's worse.  The Eastern District has 1,229 pending cases per judge as of March 31, 2018.  See, Federal Court Management Statistics.  (For a real horror show, imagine being one of the 5 Judges in Indiana - Southern, with over 1,400 cases each, and it is only the third worst in the country.)  And the Eastern District is about to be hit with a one-two punch of judicial retirements and a marked increase in federal prosecutions now that the U.S. Attorney's office has increased staff.

Note:  the statistics cited in the Eastern District's letter vary slightly from the officially reported data, but the difference seems insignificant.

Constitutional Crisis in our Courts: One step closer to meltdown

I am informed that, beginning June 2013, there will be NO court reporters for civil matters in the Los Angeles Superior Court.  Part-time court reporters will be laid off, and all full-time court reporters in civil will transfer to the criminal courts.

How much longer will we allow the two funded branches of government to continue down this path?  This is not constitutional.  Also, please be advised that I am not interested in hearing that California doesn't have enough money to correctly fund the Courts.  We have plenty of money.  The federal government has plenty of money (the highest tax receipts in history this year).  Lots of money.  Money everywhere.  It's how they SPEND that money.  Rather, it is how WE spend that money, since we own the bums running things off the cliff for us.  That's the problem - how the money is spent.  If the constitution of this state is to be treated like a bird cage liner, then it is no wonder that the institutions built upon it all look like crap now.

I wonder how much longer we will be able to retain the best of our judges.

AOC moves to smother criticism by judges, stifling First Amendment rights along the way

A story first made the rounds quietly in November of last year about a proposed ethics rule that is just broad enough and vague enough that it can be used as a tool by AOC to punish any judge with the gumption to criticize decisions of the AOC.  That rule has passed, unsurprisingly (Note: when you see a news report that something entirely likely to occur is "unexpected," that should tip you off to the agenda of the reporter, not that the event was "unexpected").  It was entirely expected that it would pass.  It was proposed to stifle dissent by using the costs associated with an ethics inquiry to shut down free speech.

We have two simultaneous problems in California's judicial branch of government, a constitutional and co-equal branch.  First, the judicial branch is catastrophically underfunded.  The Los Angeles Superior Court should not be shutting down courtrooms.  A member of the bench who shall remain nameless told me that with the coming courtroom closures in Los Angeles, the average caseload that is currently running somewhere between 550 and 600 cases per judge will jump by about 150 cases per courtroom.  What sort of justice will anyone receive under those conditions?

Second, the AOC has ballooned into a bloated bureaucracy that serves itself.  Why did the AOC mushroom from 100 employees to well over 1,000 employees inside of a decade?  Fixing this bloat would save some money.  Getting rid of the endless boondoggle of the unicorn known as CCMS saved some money, but it doesn't close the gap between current funding levels and what those levels should be at to have courts in each county that can manage the caseloads they face.  I don't know the right caseload for a civil trial court, but it isn't 550 case, and it surely isn't 700 cases.  You'd probably receive real attention and a better measure of justice if those caseloads were more like 250-300 cases per courtroom.

I condemn the current and past legislatures for allowing this to happen.  I condemn AOC for succumbing to corruption and administrative bloat (I refer to the allegation of embezzlement in the alleged amount of $100,000 that was not reported or charged as an example of that).

So to the massive audience of Legislators reading this and waiting for my go-signal, here it is: Fix the funding shortfall (who cares if you have to cancel a high speed train to do it - this is a co-equal branch of government we're talking about) and root out the administrative bloat (in other words, start insisting upon the firing of AOC staff until you have half the number you started at and then reassess, and then get rid of some more).

By the way, if someone handed me half the amount of money that was wasted on CCMS, I could have a Statewide court system database up and running in a few years, with enough left for me to retire on in a castle that I would have constructed out of rare marble on my own private island.

Governor Brown proposes taking unconstitutional under-funding of Courts to unconscionable new high (low)

Yesterday, Governor Brown's rosy revenue projections ran smack into the brick wall of reality.  California's budgetary deficit isn't the paltry $9 billion predicted by the Governor.  Heck, we could have found $9 billion in the state's couch cushions.  No problem.

Instead, our deficit, thanks to the inexcusable fiscal malfeasance of years of legislators spending beyond our means, and the inexcusable electorate allowing them to do so, is more like $16 billion.  That's billion with a "B."  This year.  A one-year deficit against a $91 billion budget.

The solution proposed by the Governor is to (1) tax us more than we already are, and (2) cut stuff.  What gets cut?  As far as our constitutionally created branch of government knows as the judiciary is concerned, the cut proposed is another $544 million from the courts budget, which has already lost $650 million over the last three years.

One retired judge recently told me that the Los Angeles Superior Court is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  But, for the most part, the leaders of the Courts, while complaining loudly about the cuts, are too political to take on the Legislature and Governor over this constutional crisis.

Where is the leadership? When are the advocates of Court access and the constitutional scholars and the judges crushed under this unchecked robbery going to stand up and demand that the third branch of government receive the first distribution of funds, regardless of what revenue is available.  The Courts are entitled to protected funds sufficient to discharge their constitutional role in California.

See, for example, coverage in the Los Angeles Times.

The unconstitutional dismantling of California's judicial branch continues unchallenged

I have written previously about the unconstitutionality of underfunding California's Courts, including a Daily Journal article posted here.  And with every additional funding cut, I believe that the legislative and executive branches march further down the path of unconstitutional conduct.  In the latest example of grevious injury to our Courts, the Los Angeles Superior Court has announced $30 million in additional cuts (about $70 million in prior cuts).  These cuts include the loss of 56 courtrooms, layoffs of 100 additional non-courtroom staff (above 329 layoffs and 229 attrition-based reductions), and a significant reduction in court reporter availability.

It is my fondest wish that a victim of these latest layoffs, a litigant, and a judge will all step forward and challenge the constitutionality of starving a co-equal branch of government.  Where are the checks and balances when one allegedly equal branch exists at the mercy of politicians that refuse to make the tough choices necessary to ensure, as a first priority, that the judicial branch is capable fo resolving the legal disputes it was created to resolve?

Regardless of whether you represent plaintiffs, or defendants, civil litigants or those charged with crimes, you cannot acquiesce to this relentless assault on fundamental, constitutional rights.   This is not a political question.  The California legislature is not constitutionally empowered to eviscerate the judicial branch.

Write your legislators.  Tell them that they must discharge their constitutional obligations before any other consideration.

And no, this is not the end of my rant.  It's just a pause...