Inland lawmaker trying again to help backlogged local appellate court
By Richard K. De Atley
A bill has passed the state Senate that would add one new justice to the Riverside-based division of the state Fourth District Court of Appeal, where a huge caseload has forced the backlogged court to send hundreds of cases to appellate court divisions in Santa Ana or San Diego.
Sen. Richard Roth’s SB 38 passed 39-0, with one vote unrecorded, on Monday, Jan. 29, and now moves to the Assembly. It estimates an initial cost of $1.25 million and ongoing cost of $1.19 million for a new appellate court justice with a staff of four. The current pay for a California Court of Appeal associate justice is $228,918.
Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar 2015 bill from Roth, saying he wanted the state Judicial Council to work on balancing the workload for judges statewide. The governor’s recent budget proposal included $4.2 billion for the justice system, up from $3.6 billion the previous year.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal has three divisions. Division Two handles cases in Riverside, San Bernardino and Inyo counties, and currently has seven justice positions, one of which has been open since an associate justice retired in August.
Roth’s bill would bring that number to eight. The state Judicial Council has said the division needs nine to handle its caseload.
The Inland area has a judicial shortage for more than a decade, with new positions trailing population growth.
“It’s unacceptable to ask the people of Inland Southern California to chase down a chance at an appeal,” Roth, a Democrat from Riverside, said in a statement. “By authorizing an additional Justice in this greatly neglected region, we can put a Band-Aid on this hemorrhage in the justice system.”
There was no recorded opposition to the bill.
In fiscal year 2016, Division Two’s justices disposed of 2,467 cases, the most of any single appellate division in California, according to the Judicial Council’s 2017 statistics report. The Fourth District’s Division One, which covers San Diego and Imperial counties, was close behind, with 2,169 disposed cases.
Division Two has had to send about 600 cases over the past four to five years to Division One or Division Three, based in Santa Ana, court officials said.
California’s courts of appeal have 90 days to deliver a ruling once a case has been submitted.
“I and my colleagues worry about the timeline to get cases out to litigants in a timely basis,” Division Two Chief Justice Manuel A. Ramirez said in a telephone interview. “So far, we have not dropped the ball, but it’s getting harder to juggle.”