My Opinion: San Bernardino County Court Closures
By Joseph W. Brady
Special to High Desert Daily
(Victor Valley)–Have you ever noticed when control of a specific entity or agency shifts from one of our counties to the state, there is ultimately a negative impact? That is indeed the case when San Bernardino and the other counties shifted control of their county courts to the state in 1997/1998. No one probably ever thought it would be an issue, because many thought (why we don’t know) that the state could run the court system more officially than the counties! When the state took over, a percentage of the courts budget allocation was determined for each county and the percentages have remained the same despite changes and growth in population and case load. Has anyone noticed our everchanging demographics in the High Desert and the fact that it is pretty obvious that our courts are getting a lot more use, have more filings, have more arrests but not more money? That doesn’t make sense.
San Bernardino County was one, if not the fastest growing county in the state of California during the last real estate boom. Yet our percentage of state funds allocated to the courts stayed the same as it was in 1997/1998 (when we were in the middle of a deep recession). We are roughly operating at 50% of what we should, due to this large amount of population increase.
While speaking to friends of mine that are well noted and respected attorneys, who truly care about their industry and what they do, I have learned some rather staggering statistics that just have to make you wonder. Did you know that San Bernardino County currently has 91 judges and 940 staff members but based on the current population and case load, we should have 156.1 judges and 1,512 staff.
Again has anyone driven around and seen the increase in crime? Why are we allowing the state to dictate this without us, as citizens of the great County of San Bernardino, doing something about this. This is our county not the State of California’s county to ruin and to send unwanted criminals to our area while not staffing it appropriately.
Layoffs are truly eminent. The Barstow closure will result in 44 layoffs. Has anyone gone to the Victorville Court House for a hearing or to serve on the jury? It is an absolute joke and candidly not one of the safest places to be in town, although you are protected by Sheriff’s, judges etc.
While our percentage of reductions amount from a budget of $108.8 million to a new budget of $87.7 million the largest expense will obviously be with our staff. Closing the Barstow Court House will only save $2 million, closing Chino Court House will only save $1.7 million and they still need to find another $10 million to cut.
I just recently heard and I am attempting to verify it, that the Victorville Court House will “inherit” 38,000 new traffic filings in the first 10 months after Barstow closes. That is 10 months not 12 months, 10 months and 38,000 filings. That works to 3,800 new filings a month! That is absolutely ridiculous.
What is even more ridiculous is to have residents in Needles, a city along the Colorado River, be required to drive 212 miles for court appearances in San Bernardino or 146 miles to Joshua Tree, which is the closest court toNeedles. What happens if their case can’t be heard? At $5.00 a gallon of gas, people can’t afford to be driving like this. What happens when someone drives to an appearance at the court for something they didn’t do and there is an accident and they are killed. Who is going to be responsible to tell that parent or that sponsor or that sibling that they are sorry because the State of California in it infinite wisdom could not budget the monies correctly to maintain constitutionally mandated local access to courts of justice?
I believe that the solutions are pretty clear and that the business community and those in the county that care need to rally support and send a strong message to Sacramento that we will not tolerate these cuts. We need to employ more judges and add additional funding for staffing. We need to demand our fair share of the budget to cover the ever increasing case loads that our county has, due to the positive growth that we had from 2000 to 2008. What our county receives in its proportion to what the state gives has not been adjusted for over 12 years.
The solution must come from Governor Brown and our Legislature. The problem cannot be fixed at the local level, and I don’t think that this is an issue of the Democrats being the super majority in the Assembly and Senate. This is one of those issues that we all need to work together for the betterment for the State of California, and more importantly, for San Bernardino County.
With this issue, our population is being deprived of access to justice, a basic constitutional issue. I believe that this issue will have a severe and serious impact on the High Desert community, San Bernardino County, the business community and the growth that we hope to have in the future. I hope that you will join me in contacting all of your local officials, your state officials, and Governor’s Brown’s office.