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L.A. judges' commuting sentences

A shortage of county jurists means fill-ins are logging lots of miles, and cases, to help fill courtroom voids.

July 17, 2008|Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writer

Call it highway justice.

Three times since the start of June, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lee Smalley Edmon has made the 50-mile-plus road trip from her home in Pasadena to the Antelope Valley Courthouse in Lancaster.

Faced with a shortage of 30 judicial officers, the Antelope Valley Courthouse has been forced to rely on help from Edmon and other judges who typically work in downtown Los Angeles.

"It's a big problem," she said.

Edmon is among six jurists who have volunteered to fill in at Antelope Valley after the recent departure of three judicial officers. One retired, another was promoted, the third transferred.

Edmon, who usually serves as the supervising judge of the Superior Court's civil departments downtown, has presided over Antelope Valley civil cases, traffic arraignments and traffic trials. The jurist insists she doesn't mind the juggling act, because she is filling a need.

The substitute jurists have helped stave off a potential backlog of civil, traffic, criminal and small-claims cases. Judge Thomas White, supervising judge for the north district, likened the visiting judges to "the cavalry coming out to rescue us in our outpost."

But the workload is immense. For example, civil court judges are carrying 1,000 cases each, White said, saying that is about double the number of other L.A. County judges.

In criminal court, some judges were handling up to 90 matters a day, plus a jury trial, court officials said.

The crush of cases has forced several judges to delay or forfeit their vacations, while at least one jurist went to work with an injury that qualified him for disability leave, court officials said.

Litigants have also paid the price. In recent weeks, at least a dozen have had to travel from the Antelope Valley to the downtown L.A. courthouse to have their cases heard, White said. "It pains us," he said, adding that local courts should be able to serve their community.

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ann.simmons@latimes.com

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