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Saying California needs at least 150 more judges, court leaders vowed Friday to pursue funding from the governor and Legislature to add new trial court slots over the next three years. Members of the Judicial Council voted to dust off a 2001 blueprint for judicial requests that was tabled due to a worsening budget outlook. Court officials say they are now more hopeful of getting a sympathetic hearing in Sacramento. There’s a new crop of legislative leaders and new budgeting method, court officials point out. Chief Justice Ronald George said he’s comfortable negotiating directly with new Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and that he is confident Schwarzenegger will “listen to our proposals and approve of us bringing them up at this time.” Even so, “I can’t predict what our success will be,” said George, who noted that it could take more than one year to get the Legislature to approve the funds. Court officials say the new seats are needed to keep up with the population in some of the state’s fastest-growing counties. No new judges are being sought for San Francisco, Alameda or Santa Clara counties. Court leaders say most urban courts are adequately staffed — even Los Angeles only stands to gain seven judges under the Administrative Office of the Courts blueprint. Contra Costa County would gain three. By contrast, 23 judges are needed in San Bernardino, 19 more in neighboring Riverside, 14 in Sacramento and 10 in Fresno. The goal of the plan, said AOC Executive Director William Vickrey, is to “begin to bring the basic resources of our courts up to a more appropriate level.” He noted that the population of California has increased 50 percent since 1980. Those figures will help court leaders make a compelling case, George said. “I really can’t explain to you the challenges our judicial officers face on a daily basis,” said council member Tressa Sloan Kentner, CEO of Riverside’s courts. “The sheer number of cases coming before our judges are just impossible to deal with on what one would assume to be a daily basis.” Kentner said judges have a particularly hard time serving farflung court branches in fast-growing areas. “We do hope the Legislature will look at these and will be able to find it in their budgetary hearts” to fund additional judges, she said. The council included as part of its recommendation new methodology for calculating judicial need — one that takes into account the number of court filings for each county over a three-year period, rather than for just a single year. “[A]nnual filings fluctuate too much for reliable annual computations of judicial need,” AOC staff concluded. Also Friday, George and State Bar President Anthony Capozzi introduced a new online service by the Public Interest Clearinghouse that will allow members of the public to look up court topics by subject and get answers to their questions specifically geared to their own county. The service can be found at www.LawHelpCA.org.

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