The Legislature Thursday voted to create 38 new Superior Court judgeships in 18 counties and establish a $961-million program for state financing of trial courts now supported mostly by local governments.
San Diego County was the big winner in the bill with nine new judges, followed by Orange County with four.
The two-house compromise on the bill by Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove) requires as a condition of the state financing that trial courts attempt to streamline operations and cut costs.
Under the bill, county officials would have to elect to join the state court-financing program. To receive the state aid, counties would have to agree to efficiencies and drop expensive lawsuits against the state protesting the lack of adequate state money to cover mandated programs.
It was estimated that the bill would cost the state up to $341 million in the next fiscal year. The state would collect $961 million in revenues from court fees.
It went to the governor’s desk after both houses approved last-minute amendments worked out by an Assembly-Senate conference committee.
A similar court financing plan was vetoed last year by Gov. George Deukmejian, who demanded additional court reforms and efficiencies.
The latest bill contains many of the changes sought by the governor with the added sweetener of 38 new judge positions he would be able to fill. Individual county requests for new judges had been considered in past years.
The bill was passed by the Assembly on a 67-5 vote. It was approved 26 to 3 in the Senate.
Sen. Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the number of new judgeships was less than that allowed by the standards of need set up by the Judicial Council.
“A lot of people on the Assembly Judiciary Committee want to wait to see who gets elected governor next year before having any new judges,” Lockyer said.
Lockyer said Assembly Judiciary Chairman Elihu M. Harris (D-Oakland) applied tighter standards in deciding the need for judges than those laid down by the Judicial Council.
Robinson said his bill would test state financing of trial courts in a handful of counties.
“We’re talking about taking the courts of California off the backs of property owners,” Robinson said. “It’s the best product we can come up with. We’ve been working on it for four years.”
He predicted that the program would save $1 billion statewide.
Robinson explained that the new judgeships were based on caseloads and efforts of the courts to improve judicial efficiency.
Granted three judges each were Alameda, Fresno, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Kern, San Mateo, Solano and Ventura counties were granted two judgeships each.
Granted one new judge each were Butte, Sacramento, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Shasta, Sonoma, Tulare and Yuba counties.
The new judgeships are expected to cost about $140,000 for each one approved by county supervisors.
The California Judicial Council reported that counties paid $587.5 million, or 90.4% of 1983-84 costs. The state paid $62.6 million.
New Municipal Courts
The Senate also approved a conference committee report on a bill, AB 82, by Harris, creating 24 new Municipal Court judgeships in 13 counties. The vote was 25 to 6.
The bill needed only Assembly concurrence to go to the governor’s desk.
It also raises the jurisdictional limit for Municipal Courts in lawsuits to $25,000 from the present level of $15,000, in an effort to lighten the Superior Court workload.