In a sweeping move expected to relieve a manpower shortage that sparked a 3-week-old ban on all new civil trials, Gov. George Deukmejian on Monday named seven San Diego County men to the Superior Court bench.
The new judges include four jurists promoted from the Municipal Court, two civil attorneys and a state prosecutor. They were generally lauded as a respected and experienced group, but one attorney lamented that no women were among the appointments.
All four Municipal Court judges elevated by Deukmejian were named to the lower court by the governor from 1985 to 1987. They are Jesus Rodriguez, Louis E. Boyle, Raymond Edwards Jr. and Peter E. Riddle.
The two civil attorneys are Daniel J. Tobin, a veteran La Mesa lawyer, and Robert J. O’Neill, a former Superior Court judge who left the bench to enter private practice in 1986. Also appointed was Michael D. Wellington, a supervising deputy attorney general in San Diego since 1971.
Greeted With Relief
The governor’s appointments, which filled more than a third of the 18 vacancies on the bench in one fell swoop, were greeted with relief by the court’s presiding judge, Michael I. Greer, who postponed all new civil trials Feb. 10 because of an overwhelming backlog of criminal cases.
Greer, who conducted the swearing-in of five of the new judges at a festive ceremony Monday, said the infusion of manpower will allow civil trials to resume “very shortly,” possibly by the end of the week.
“As soon as we get these people on board, we’ll be back in business,” Greer said. “This is a happy day.”
Greer said the recent retirement and elevation of five judges means there are courtrooms to accommodate the newcomers. But many of the 11 remaining appointees that will bring the court to full strength will probably operate from temporary quarters being readied at the Hotel San Diego.
Tom Beermann, a Deukmejian spokesman, said the governor’s appointments should not be seen as a response to pleas for help from San Diego County. But Beermann said the governor hopes that the additional bodies will help ease the logjam in the county’s courts.
‘A Significant Difference’
“With the large number of vacancies that do exist, these seven additional appointments should make a significant difference in reducing that backlog,” Beermann said.
He said Deukmejian is working to fill the remaining vacancies as quickly as possible.
Court officials say the crunch that brought civil trials to a halt last month has been building gradually since last fall and was exacerbated by vacancies created by the retirement of three judges and the elevation of two to the 4th District Court of Appeal.
Greer has laid blame for the troubles on the San Diego County clerk’s office, charging that the clerk has failed to keep him apprised of the growing number of criminal cases facing dismissal unless trials begin immediately. (Under law, criminal cases must be in court within 60 days, unless a defendant waives his right to a speedy trial.)
County Clerk Robert D. Zumwalt, however, argues that the problem was created by the county’s swelling criminal caseload and the failure of judicial appointments to keep pace.
On Monday, Greer said some civil cases are now being heard by attorneys sitting as judges, an arrangement that both sides in a dispute must agree to. Also, two retired judges have been pinch-hitting.
‘Slows Down Settlements’
“It’s been difficult, but we’ve had a lot of cooperation and understanding from the lawyers,” Greer said. “The main problem is it slows down settlements. The best (impetus) for settling a case is a judge and jury.”
Greer estimated that about 15 civil trials have been suspended because of the manpower problem. Although that may seem a small number, “it’s a ton when you consider that we try maybe three of every 100 cases that come through. So, if you’ve got 15 trials, you’re talking about 500 cases.”
The judge praised Monday’s appointees as “a delightful group” and said those promoted from the Municipal Court will “be on line as quickly as I can get them to move upstairs.”
Marc Adelman, president of the San Diego County Bar Assn., also lauded the new jurists and called the appointments “a major step toward easing the load” that has brought civil trials to a virtual standstill.
The Next Step
“It’s sure going to be a big help, " Adelman said. “The next step is more appointments and more courtrooms.”
Marilyn Huff, an attorney with Gray, Cary, Ames & Frye, noted that two of the new judges--Tobin and Riddle--have significant civil law experience. In the past, some lawyers have criticized the governor--the state’s former Attorney General--for appointing too many ex-prosecutors and neglecting to name civil attorneys to the bench.
“It really is an excellent group,” Huff said. “I would prefer to see a woman among them . . . but there are strong credentials here. Mainly what we needed were more judges.”
Rodriguez, 37, of Chula Vista, was appointed to the San Diego Municipal Court by Deukmejian in 1986. Before that, the University of San Diego graduate was a deputy in the local attorney general’s office.
Boyle, 49, of San Diego, has been a Municipal judge since 1987. Boyle worked as a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office 14 years. He is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and USD.
A Judge Since 1985
Edwards, 42, has been a judge since 1985. The Spring Valley resident was an assistant U. S. attorney in San Diego from 1979 until 1985. He is a graduate of California State University, Los Angeles, and South Bay University Law School.
Riddle, 50, of Coronado, was named to the Municipal Court in 1987. Before that, he was a lawyer in private practice in San Diego. He is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Chicago.
Tobin, 50, of La Mesa, has been with the law firm of Knutson, Tobin, Meyer & Shannon since 1967. He is a graduate of Princeton University and UCLA, and former president of the county Bar Assn.
In a telephone interview, he said he was gratified by the appointment and eager to don the judicial robe.
“I feel very pleased and anxious to get to work at the job,” said Tobin, a captain in the Navy reserves who is serving a two-week stint in Washington. “It seems to be the right move now.”
Formed Law Firm
O’Neill, 48, of San Diego, was a municipal judge from 1978 until 1980 and a Superior Court judge from 1980 until 1986. In 1986, he decided he needed a change and formed a law firm with Craig McClellan, where he practiced civil law in 1987 and 1988.
A graduate of the University of San Francisco, O’Neill was appointed to the Municipal and Superior courts the first time by former Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. Before becoming a judge, O’Neill was a prosecutor 11 years .
Also appointed to the court was Michael D. Wellington, 43, of San Diego. Wellington has been a supervising deputy attorney general in San Diego since 1971. He is a graduate of San Diego State University and USD.
After his swearing-in Monday, Wellington said he was “very proud” of the opportunity to serve as a judge and “anxious to do something different after 18 years” with the attorney general’s office.
Superior Court judges earn $84,765 annually. Monday’s appointments represented the greatest number of judicial slots filled at the same time on the same bench since Deukmejian took office in 1983.