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Local Jurists Laud Move to Fund New Judgeships


Ventura County judges lauded the governor's decision Friday to fund new judicial positions statewide, including one locally, saying it would allow cases to move more swiftly through the justice system.

"This is great news for us," Presiding Superior Court Judge Charles Campbell Jr. said. "We are in serious need of another judge just to keep up."

The county's 26 judges have struggled to keep pace with mushrooming caseloads brought on by population gains in recent years, relying on a patchwork of retired judges and court commissioners to share the work.

Now that may change.

Gov. Gray Davis earmarked $2.6 million for creation of 20 new judgeships statewide in his revised budget, which was released Friday.

Ventura County has ranked high among counties where new judges are most needed, and state officials said Friday the county is in line for one of the recommended positions.

"I am delighted," said Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), a family law attorney familiar with pressures now facing the county's courts.

"I think the position needs to be filled," Jackson said. "Obviously if you have another court available you can have cases heard and justice can be dispensed in a more timely manner."

Two years ago trial courts statewide received some relief when the Legislature created 21 judgeships--the first in nearly a decade. But last year the funding for 40 more positions stalled in Sacramento.

This year, the Judicial Council of California pushed for funding of 50 new positions after identifying 79 courts in "critical need" of new judges. Ventura County was rated seventh on the list.

Court officials had hoped the governor would fund all 50 positions. They said, however, they were pleased to see 20 included in the budget revision.

"It is a significant start to addressing really a 10-year backlog in the creation of judgeships," said Anthony Williams, a Sacramento-based lobbyist for the Judicial Council.

Williams said the lack of judges often forces courts to cut back in civil litigation, forcing those who want their cases settled to wait in line.

"This helps to relieve the pressure," he said. "Litigants big and small can have their disputes settled in a timely fashion."

Ventura County court officials say the timing couldn't be better.

In the past five months, two judges have retired--creating additional vacancies on the bench. With the addition of a new judicial post, Davis now has the opportunity to appoint three judges to the county's Superior Court.

The last time Ventura County added a new judicial position was more than 10 years ago, even though criminal filings, juvenile and family law cases have increased dramatically in recent years, court officials said.

The impact is perhaps most keenly felt by litigants trying to get their cases resolved, officials say. And in that respect, they said, one more judge should help quicken the pace of justice in the county.

"Every time you get a new judge, it means that the public gets better service," Superior Court Judge Steven Z. Perren said. "It is certainly good news."

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