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Trial Court Consolidation Not in the Best Interests of the Public--or Justice

August 28, 1994

Your editorial "Order in the Courts" (Aug. 18) in support of SCA 3, the trial court consolidation initiative, was one-sided. It failed to mention the compelling arguments against the measure.

Here are some of the reasons why SCA 3 would be contrary to the public interest: It would eliminate the Municipal Courts, which provide justice at the community level, close to the people. If SCA 3 is enacted, there will be only one class of judges elected countywide, with no community ties.

This will benefit the big law firms and the business litigants who have large cases, but it will dilute the resources available for traffic, small-claims and smaller civil cases. It will also destroy the liaison between the police departments and the Municipal Courts that enables law enforcement to focus on unique local problems.

The immediate effects will be in cost increases resulting from the adjustment of the Municipal Court judges' salaries to the same amount as Superior Court judges receive. The so-called "long-term" cost savings that are projected are purely speculative.

It is more likely that consolidation will emulate the school systems to produce new bureaucratic positions to administer the courts. Just the opposite of cost savings may result, since modern management theory now favors decentralization, not consolidation. The SCA 3 model is the Los Angeles Unified School District.

You failed to mention that Gov. Wilson is strongly opposed to SCA 3, believing that it is unnecessary and that it would make it more difficult to appoint highly qualified lawyers to the bench.

Finally, you failed to mention that similar consolidation measures have twice before been voted down by the people.

TULLY H. SEYMOUR

Judge, Superior Court

Orange

*

Your recent editorial must have been based on a legislative press release. Contrary to your editorial, the California Judges Assn. has not been indifferent to the legislation and has supported the concept of open hearings and a balanced membership on the commission.

It has opposed bills that would have allowed a majority of politically appointed members to discipline and remove judges without any review by the Supreme Court. Aside from their doubtful constitutionality, those bills were just bad policy.

As to trial court unification, there has never been any debate as to whether this proposed amendment will benefit the public. The referral to the California Law Revision Commission by the Legislature contained express directions to the commission that it was not to consider the question of whether the proposal was in the public interest. In requesting comments, the commission stated that it would consider only suggestions that might aid in the passage of the legislation and would not consider opposing viewpoints.

If this proposal is of such a benefit to the people of California, why can't it be submitted to the rigors of a vigorous debate on its value in answering public access to the courts, on whether it preserves a reasonable degree of local autonomy and on the question of whether, in fact, it will save money?

During a period when business and industry have rediscovered the value of decentralization, it is tragic that the Legislature sees fit to push the court system in the opposite direction.

Efficiency, of course, should be required of the courts, but justice, fairness and guaranteed access for people, regardless of class, culture, gender, race or creed, can't always be accomplished on the cheap.

On the other hand, we could save tons of money by dispensing with such outmoded, inefficient and wasteful concepts as jury trials and other quaint vestiges of our past.

I hope that if the unification amendment does make it to the ballot, your paper will give it greater attention than you have to date. It is worthy of an honest inquiry.

DONALD E. SMALLWOOD

Judge, Superior Court

Santa Ana

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