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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Court Reform Out of Order

These are hard times for county government--times when even good ideas must wait. One of them is a program passed by the Legislature last year that is aimed at reducing trial delays in the state’s clogged courtrooms.

Like many state programs these days, this one came with a lot of enthusiasm, a stiff price tag--and little assurance of reimbursement from Sacramento. In Orange County, the program would cost $478,000 a year, mostly for added bailiffs and other county workers. Wisely, the Board of Supervisors decided to wait to implement the program so that it can be weighed against other pressing demands during the upcoming budget process.

Orange County already projects a $10.8-million shortfall by June 30, the end of the fiscal year. Nor can it expect much state help; legislators are already wrestling with a budget crisis because of an estimated $9-billion deficit. That means that counties--which carry out state programs--once again will be juggling health, welfare and other crucial services.

In Orange County, the program designed to reduce trial delays would put some cases on a “fast-track” in which one judge would handle a case from start to finish. It also would free up four law-and-motion courtrooms for civil and criminal trials. Currently, delays are so long that the Orange County Bar Assn. accused the courts of a “failure of justice” and sued various state officials seeking to force the creation of more judgeships in the county.

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There’s no question that the court system is under extreme duress, but so are other vital programs. The county correctly wants the request considered as part of the overall trial court budget. The proposed court reform may have to wait until the board can determine how it fits in with its other priorities.


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