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Weekend Arraignments Recommended by Judges

Times Staff Writer

Judges in Orange County’s Central Municipal Court have suggested holding weekend arraignments--possibly a first in the state--as a way of reducing jail overcrowding.

It is a suggestion that has been raised before but not pursued, partly because county officials believed the judges were unwilling to hold court on weekends.

“If the motivation comes from those who would be the doers, then I think the chances of it being a success are good,” Supervisor Thomas F. Riley said Wednesday.

The suggestion came in a Dec. 14 letter from Judge Robert E. Thomas, Central Municipal Court’s presiding judge-elect.

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If implemented, it would mean that some people arrested late in the week or on the weekend would not have to wait in jail as long before being charged before a judge.

County Administrative Officer Larry Parrish has already ordered a study about the possibility of weekend arraignments, said Louise E. Napoli, an analyst with the CAO’s office.

Napoli said the study will determine how much of an impact the weekend arraignments could have on the jail population and how much it would cost to operate a weekend courtroom.

Court and county officials said Wednesday they know of no any other California court that holds arraignments on the weekend. Part of the problem is that there is a state statute that might prohibit criminal sentencings on Sundays because it is legally considered a holiday.

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Interpretation Asked

Napoli said the county counsel’s office will be asked to interpret the law and rule on what judicial actions can take place on the weekend. If it is determined that such work on Sunday is prohibited, Central Court Administrator Robert B. Kuhel said the county could ask the Legislature for a new law or seek an opinion from the state attorney general.

“The language is not totally clear,” Kuhel said. “Other counties have reached the same conclusion.”

Fritz Ohlrich, assistant municipal court administrator in Los Angeles, said they considered weekend arraignments during the Olympics in case there was a major disruption.

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“We concluded that we could do it on Saturday, but not on Sunday,” he said.

Thomas’ letter spoke only for the Central Municipal Court in Santa Ana, one of five municipal court districts in the county. Kuhel said the other courts were not involved in Thomas’ proposal, but they might be approached during the CAO’s study.

Judge Robert B. Hutson, presiding judge at North Municipal Court in Fullerton, said Wednesday that his colleagues have not discussed weekend arraignments lately and that he did not know how it would be received.

‘Would Be Supportive’

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Judge J. Michael Beecher, presiding judge at West Municipal Court in Westminster, also said the issue has not been discussed recently. But, he said, “I suspect it is probably going to happen eventually, and I would be supportive of it myself.”

A supervisor’s aide said Wednesday that weekend arraignments have been studied by the county before but, “The general feeling was that the courts were not willing to do it.”

Kuhel said Wednesday, however, that it might be logical to assume judges would not be willing to work weekends. “But as this letter shows, the (assumptions) are a bit inaccurate.

“Should it be feasible, they are ready, willing and able to implement it,” he said.

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Orange County has been wrestling with overcrowding in its jails for more than 10 years. Its main jail in Santa Ana is operating under population restrictions imposed by a federal judge.

In 1985, the judge held the sheriff and the supervisors in contempt of court for not responding to his orders. Since then, the county has taken several steps to reduce the jail population.

This year, more than 20,000 people charged with misdemeanor crimes who might otherwise have been incarcerated were cited and released because there was no room in the jails. And some prisoners convicted of minor crimes have been released before the end of their sentences.


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