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Court Prescription

January 08, 1989

The Los Angeles Times ran an article announcing a state program to give San Diego County $30 million "to help relieve severe crowding that has plagued the county's court system" ("County Will Take Part in State Program to Ease Courts Burden," Dec. 15). The money will be used to pay an additional 27 judges and court-appointed referees and commissioners during the next 18 months.

Such extra funding simply postpones the problem of overcrowding in our courts. I suggest that we use other means to lighten the crowding in our courts.

For many years, I have gone to the courts to sketch, and last year I served on jury duty for several weeks. In my years of seeing the courts in action, I feel that much can be done to improve the efficiency and economy of our system.

For example, I have been baffled and frustrated by the number of court recesses. I know that the judge must meet in chambers from time to time with lawyers. I know that judges must consult law books. I know that judges and court personnel need a respite from time to time. But more often than not, I go down the long corridors of the courts and find them all in recess. On some days, I find that recess time almost exceeds trial time!

As a juror, I have been frustrated by time-consuming delays. It's proper that jurors be instructed on the rights of the accused, the nature of evidence, etc., but the sheer repetition of instructions is daunting. We were given a brief lecture and then were shown a half-hour film in which a judge lectured on all that's expected of a jury. Then we waited--several days in fact--until we were called into a courtroom. The judge gave a lengthy lecture on essentially the same thing we saw on film.

Then we sat for several hours until a jury was selected to the satisfaction of opposing lawyers. In the selection process, lawyers often repeated what we had just heard from the presiding judge.

Those who weren't selected went back to the jury room and waited. Those who were selected were lectured twice (by lawyers on both sides) on the nature of evidence, the necessity of being absolutely objective, etc. The half-hour film we saw would have sufficed.

At the actual trial, once again we were lectured by the judge and by the opposing lawyers on the nature of evidence, on judging without prejudice, etc. ad nauseam.

Before we spend more money to increase the number of judges and courtrooms, we must find ways to make our existing system more efficient. Judges must preside in court longer and more frequently. Lawyers must be cautioned when they ask the same questions repeatedly. Instructions to prospective jurors should simply be the half-hour film and some printed instructions to be studied at home or in the jury room.

The jury selection process should be strictly limited as to the length of time and the number of challenges by lawyers.

And routine cases such as drunk driving without physical injury or property damage involved should be dispensed without the ponderous process I described above.

An independent study of our courts should be made to determine how time and money might be saved. The study should exclude lawyers, judges and the American Bar Assn., for they have too many vested interests in the status quo.

DEWEY D. AJIOKA

San Marcos

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