Honorable Board of Supervisors
Los Angeles County
383, Hall of Administration
Los Angeles, Calif. 90012
On March 29 your Board referred the request of the Superior Court for 34 additional judges to our Commission for analysis and report back to the Board in two weeks.
Our staff has conducted interviews with concerned officials, including Judge Hogoboom, Presiding Judge of the Superior Court; Frank Zolin, Executive Officer of the Court; John Van De Kamp, District Attorney; Wilbur Littlefield, Public Defender; and Ralph Kleps, Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, Judicial Council of California. We have reviewed the relevant court reports, the reports of the Judicial Council, and a number of budgetary and other documents associated with the operation of the court.
We recommend that your Board reject the request of the court for 34 additional judges. Our reasons are the following:
1. Fiscal Crisis - The County is again facing a serious fiscal crisis this year.. For all practical purposes, the tax monies have run out. Until the Legislature can pass an effective and equitable tax reform measure, it is incumbent on the County and all local governments to control expenditures. The Board is pledged to reduce County expenditures, to decrease County employees, and to cut the tax rate.
The court request states that the 34 judges will be assigned to the civil courts where the case backlog has increased by 34~% over the past two years. The court estimates that the total cost for the additional judges is $3,966,906. The State will bear most of this cost. The County share is $444,540. However, if this year or any future year the court assigns any of these judges to a criminal court, the costs will rapidly increase. The cost for supporting personnel paid for by the County in a civil court is $86,000 annually. For a criminal court it is $254,000. Thus there is a clear possibility that the cost to the County may increase substantially in the future above the court estimate.
Furthermore, we should point out that State costs are also a burden on the taxpayers.
2. Increased Costs - In 1965, the annual expenditures of the Superior Court amounted to $8 million. In 1973, this amount had increased to over $19 million. This year's budget is set at $29 million. This increase amounts to 260% since 1965. While some County functions, by comparison, have grown at faster rates, the average County increase over the period amounts to 160%. The number of budgeted positions in the courts has increased from 544 positions in 1965 to 889 in 1976, an increase of 60.5%. In addition, the average cost per case filed increased by 87%, exclusive of inflation.
The court argues that increased caseloads and growing backlogs have created a crisis in the civil courts. Principal cause is the growing complexity of cases, such as those involving class action, consumer protection and environmental suits.
The courtís solution is to ask for more judges. We believe that instead of adding more judges, the court should seek every way to improve procedures and to expedite cases in order to maintain expenditures at the present level. As we show in the next section, there appears to be room for improvement. Our conclusion is that the discipline of holding the judicial complement to the present level should have a positive effect in pressing the court to search for improvement. We urge also that the court join the Board of Supervisors in seeking legislative reform.
3. Judicial Council Findings - In his letter to the Board, Judge Hogoboom stated that the staff of the Judicial Council of California has issued an independent report "which statistically corroborates our need for 34 additional judges." This is true. The report, dated February 22, 1977, concludes that based on the system of weighted caseloads, the Superior Court will require the total of 260 judicial positions which the court is requesting.
That report, however, contains two tables which we urge your Board to examine carefully. (See attachments.) Tables III and IV compare Los Angeles Superior Court in such areas as number of filings and dispositions with ten other superior courts, each having 14 or more judicial positions on December 31, 1976. Table III shows that the courts in six other counties had a greater number of civil filings per judicial position than Los Angeles. Five courts had a greater number of criminal filings. Table IV shows that Los Angeles County ranked ninth in number of dispositions per judicial position. That is, in terms of these measures, Tables III and IV show that Los Angeles takes longer and consumes more resources per case than a number of the other courts.
This data can be interpreted in two distinct ways. One is the view shared by Judge Hogoboom and Frank Zolin. Their position is that the Los Angeles court, which processes 40% of the total superior court proceedings in the State, is unique in its operation. They say that there are more corporations here which have the capability of conducting prolonged and skillful litigation. In addition, because of its sheer size, the region has more than its share of intricate and difficult cases. Finally, Los Angeles County has an aggressive Public Defender. This increases the probability that a case will be tried.
The second view, which we share, holds that while Los Angeles County is larger than other counties, its social problems are not radically different from other urban areas in California. The ten counties in Tables III and IV represent the principal metropolitan regions in California. All have litigious citizens, skilled lawyers, environmental and consumer action groups, and similar crime problems. Therefore, there is a strong implication in this data that the performance of the Los Angeles court can be improved.
This second interpretation is supported by other findings of the Judicial Council staff.
The information in Tables III and IV is based upon a judicial time study conducted by the staff of the Judicial Council in 1976. These time studies have been conducted periodically since 1966.
In applying the results, Los Angeles has always been measured as an entity in itself. All other courts in the State are measured together as a single entity. This means that the measures applied to the various court operations. The measures applying to only the operation of the Los Angeles Court.
In the first draft of its report presenting the results of the 1976 time study (dated January 20, 1977), the staff of the Judicial Commission recommended for the first time that the State-wide weights be applied to Los Angeles. "The current study," the report states, " . . . shows, however, that the times required to dispose of the various categories of cases in Los Angeles fall within the range of times required in other courts. In light of these findings, there would seem to be no justification for continued use of separate weights for Los Angeles." (pp. 6-7)
On January 22, the Judicial Council in a close decision voted 8 to 7 to reject the staff recommendation and directed it to continue the practice of treating Los Angeles Superior Court as a separate entity.
This practice applied to the court's projected filings for 1977-78 results in supporting the request for 34 additional judges. On the other hand, adopting the staff's initial recommendation to apply State-wide weights to Los Angeles would show that the court has no need for additional judges.
For these reasons we recommend that the Board of Supervisors reject the Superior Court's request.
ROBERT J. DOWNEY Chairman