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Merger Has Made Courts More Efficient, Judge Says

Jurisprudence: He finds unifying of Municipal, Superior benches has reduced jurists' caseloads.

February 28, 2001|CAITLIN LIU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A year after Los Angeles Municipal Court merged with the county's Superior Court, a supervising judge Tuesday praised the results, saying a unified system has made his court more efficient.

"The availability of more judicial officers . . . [means] we have greater flexibility in how we assign cases," said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William MacLaughlin, who supervises the San Fernando and Santa Clarita courts, at a media briefing.

After the merger in January 2000, the Superior Court grew from 238 judges and 65 commissioners to 429 judges and 135 commissioners countywide. That allowed caseloads to be more evenly apportioned between judges, MacLaughlin said.

Eight years ago civil cases in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita courts took 54 months, on average, to go to trial.

"That was a hardship for people with civil disputes because they had to wait so long," MacLaughlin said. Lawsuits were sometimes endangered because the law required dismissal if a case failed to go to trial five years after filing, he added.

Now, civil cases in MacLaughlin's North Valley District, which will also include the new Chatsworth court slated to open later this year, take less than a year to go to trial.

Before unification, Superior Court judges had much higher caseloads, MacLaughlin said, recalling a time when some judges, including himself, had to juggle 2,500 or more pending cases.

Now, he said, judges handle an average of about 450 cases each.

The increased efficiency and lighter caseload can also be attributed to fewer criminal and civil case filings, MacLaughlin said, as well as the North Valley courts' move from a master calendar to an individual calendar case management system. The latter system assigns a judge to a civil case from the time it is filed to its resolution, a system that judges say promotes settlement.

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