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Decision '94 / SPECIAL GUIDE TO CALIFORNIA'S ELECTIONS : Propositions : 191: Renames Justice Courts : WHAT IT IS

October 30, 1994

Proposition 191 would convert the state's 47 Justice Courts, which operate in the smaller towns of rural counties, to Municipal Courts. All Justice Court judges would become Municipal Court judges. Both the Justice and Municipal Courts hear criminal cases involving less serious misdemeanors and civil cases involving disputes of $25,000 or less. The only difference is that Justice Courts serve districts of 40,000 people or less; Municipal Court districts have more than 40,000 residents.

A name change, from Justice Court to Municipal Court, would have no impact on the work Justice Court judges are doing--since, under Proposition 91, Justice Court judges and Municipal Court judges already are doing the same work--and the salary is the same: $95,214 annually.


Proposition 191 would finish a job that California voters began in the 1988 elections, that of "professionalizing and equalizing the administration of justice" in the state's rural outposts such as Alpine, Inyo, Lassen, Mono and Tuolumne counties.

In 1988, voters approved Proposition 91, which increased the authority and prestige of Justice Court judges. It required that Justice Court judges have a minimum of five years experience as a lawyer--the same as Municipal Court judges--and barred the practice of law on the side. It also authorized Justice Court judges to travel throughout the state to hear cases in counties whose courts were short-staffed.

"(Proposition) 191 is long overdue," said Mariposa County Justice Court Judge Carlos C. LaRoche. The Justice Court label, he said, is "an anachronism" left over from California's frontier days.


The only formal opposition to Proposition 191 has come from Gary B. Wesley, a San Jose attorney who often submits contrary ballot arguments when no one else will.

If the Justice Courts are to be eliminated, Wesley said, those judges ought to have to apply for the Municipal Court. "Perhaps," he said in the ballot pamphlet, "they will not be needed or sufficiently qualified."


The state Assembly, 79 to 0; state Senate, 39 to 0; California Judges Assn.



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