One of the undercurrent stories in the weeks leading up to last month's election involved Del Norte County Superior Court's huge caseload and the need for an additional judge here to keep the wheels of justice turning smoothly.
In the politicking between incumbent Judge William Follett, who won reelection on June 6, and challenger Leroy Davies, both candidates described the local criminal and civil court system as slow and overburdened. Follett noted that in order to fully prepare for the cases that come before him he routinely works a six-day week.
According to California state court workload standards, Del Norte Superior Court handles enough cases to fill the dockets of three judges. Yet the county has only two judges.
There is a bit of hope on the horizon, however. The new state budget includes money to staff 50 new seats on the bench statewide. Which counties will get those new judges has not yet been determined.
But Del Norte County should be in line for state funding to pay for another judge ¬ó especially given the additional burden Pelican Bay State Prison places on the local court system. All cases out of the prison, from civil complaints filed by inmates acting as jailhouse lawyers to criminal cases involving drug crime, assaults and worse inside Pelican Bay's walls, land in Del Norte's court.
Many people simply aren't aware of the problem until they find themselves in court before a harried judge. But all of us are affected. Crime rates, the local business climate and public respect for the law can all be worsened by court bottlenecks.
The fact that lawmakers have recognized the problem and funded 50 new seats on the bench is a good start. But statewide there is a need for an estimated 300 new judges. The Legislature needs to do more than make a down payment on solving the problem.
For Del Norte County and the rest of California, it's critical that we have more judges to keep our judicial system working as it should.
¬ó The Daily Triplicate