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SACRAMENTO � The fervent wish of court leaders to add more judgeships to the California bench appears to be on hold � at least for this year. Senate Bill 56, authored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, failed to move out of the Assembly appropriations committee’s suspense file by Aug. 26, the deadline for movement on all fiscal bills. Insiders say political wrangling over where to create new judgeships may have helped snuff any chances of the bill moving forward this year. “It has nothing to do with funding,” said Dunn, who is still involved in last-minute “discussions to resolve some of the outstanding issues” before the legislative session ends next week. If that happens, legislative leaders and the governor could agree to pull the bill out of suspension � a long-shot possibility, given the fact that the legislative session ends Sept. 9. “I’m not ready to declare it dead,” said William Vickrey, who heads the Administrative Office of the Courts. “If it doesn’t move out, it will become a two-year bill, but we are still pushing to deal with it in the remaining week and a half.” According to an AOC plan first approved by the Judicial Council of California in 2001 and updated in 2004, 150 new judgeships would be added to the state superior court bench over a three-year period � 50 a year for three years, at a cost of about $3 million per year. That plan, discussed in a closed-door San Francisco meeting of court leaders in February and emphasized by Chief Justice Ronald George in his annual state of the judiciary meeting in March, envisioned deploying new judgeships first to areas of the state such as Riverside, San Bernardino and Sacramento counties, where the inability of judges to keep up with population growth has led to trial delays, particularly in civil cases. But that idea quickly became “the object of target practice” by lawmakers reluctant to support the plan without obvious gain to constituents in their own district, Dunn said. Dunn said he agreed to language that in May removed the specific number of judges from SB 56 to “low key” the measure and avoid “the usual pork-barrel approach.” But that wasn’t enough to win collegial approval of the bill � especially when other legislators voiced concerns about union opposition to adding salaries for new judges at a time when the state is already strapped. Dunn also said Democratic leaders were reluctant to hand Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger the power of appointing new judges “only to see 150 Republican ideologues appointed to the bench.” Despite the governor’s record of choosing politically restrained judges, Dunn said lawmakers still toyed with a few options for agreements that the governor might be willing to make � within the confines of his constitutional prerogative to appoint judges. Those ideas included getting Schwarzenegger to agree to a specified appointment pool of potential judges, Dunn said. Even if SB 56 stays in hibernation this session, George said he’s not discouraged. There is among lawmakers “general recognition that there is a need for the judgeships,” George said, adding that there’s “always a political part” to giving a sitting governor new judgeships to fill. In 2000, SB 1857, authored by then-Senate President Pro Tem John Burton and his Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, created 20 new trial court judgeships and 12 new appellate bench slots in the waning hours of the legislative session � two years after money was allocated for the positions in the budget. At the time, the delay was blamed on Burton’s concerns about then-Gov. Gray Davis appointing judges willing to impose the death penalty. But, George said, the court system in parts of the state is struggling under the weight of growing demand. “This bill isn’t designed to help judges ease their work load,” George said. “It’s designed to maintain access to the courts � that’s what it’s all about.” Senate Bill 395, a bill by Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Whittier, that sought to float a bond to pay for court facility improvements, is also not expected to pass until the Legislature considers it along with other potential bonds next year.

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