At the annual “State of the Judiciary” on Feb. 15, California Chief Justice Ronald M. George said the structural developments of the judicial system in the past decade have been a successful fit for the economic downturn.
Yolo Superior Court statistics for 2009 demonstrate this achievement, with an overall high disposition rate.
The data shows the continuation of an ongoing trend. The amount of case filings increased by 26 percent in the last five years, and the disposition rate increased from 55 percent in 2000 to 84 percent. Additionally, there has been a 113 percent increase over the past five years in the number of jury trials conducted.
There were a total of 43,517 filings with 36,407 dispositions, and resolution was at 84 percent. Presiding Judge David Rosenberg credits the high disposition rate to the court’s direct calendar system, which was implemented in 2007.
Last year had 121 criminal jury trials, 28 of which were misdemeanor trials and 93 were felony trials. Rosenberg said this is an astonishing large number of criminal cases involving a jury, considering the small size of Yolo Superior Court.
There were 1,842 filings of classified felonies of which 1,828 were resolved. This 99 percent disposition rate for felonies was time consuming, yet was met with a high efficiency that helped reduce backlog.
The numbers are broken down into categories of felony, misdemeanor, infractions, civil (unlimited), civil (limited), probate/mental health, family law, juvenile delinquency and juvenile dependency. The category with the largest number of filings, at 27,452, was for infractions, which include bicycle tickets and noise violations.
Yolo Superior Court took on some challenging cases in 2009. Former UC Davis student and 21-year-old Fernando De Vizcarra received nearly six years for breaking a UC Davis Bookstore security guard’s jaw after being caught stealing books. Sixty-two year-old Jose Luis Rangel was sentenced to eight years for burglarizing the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Woodland, as well as an ATM machine.
The statistics for 2009 provide a more comprehensive perspective of the activity within Yolo Superior Court.
Jim Perry, Court Administrative Officer at Yolo Superior Court, helped compile the data and said the increase in case filings signifies there was more crime over the past five years. However, the overhaul of the system has yielded better results for this demand. Perry believes the data is in sync with the improvements and a good indicator for the court’s performance in the midst of budget reductions.
We are serving the public at a significantly high rate since we are running 20-25 percent below where we should with staff and appointing judges due to the economic clout,” Perry said.
Perry believes the court can aim to improve the resolution rate for juvenile dependency and delinquency, which are at 70 and 76 percent, even though juvenile cases are complicated and require many components to increase the disposition rate.
“The court is very efficient with how we’ve restructured with the direct calendaring system that allows us to go through cases quicker,” Perry said. “Some types of cases, like juvenile dependency, are more complex and therefore require longer pending time and more hearings.”
Perry also attributes the alleviation of case backlog to improved procedural strategies.
“We have the ability to move criminal cases for those waiting for trial, as well as being caught up on all of earlier cases, serving current cases in the current year,” Perry said.
California has the largest court system in the nation – with over 9 million cases serving more than 37 million people. There are approximately 2,000 judicial officers and 19,000 court employees.
Philip Carrizo, spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the Courts, believes these statistics help Yolo Superior Court keep a close eye on activity in order to maintain quick resolution. High disposition rates often require a great deal of cooperation between the district attorney and public defender, Carrizo said.
In 1998, with a constitutional amendment approved by California voters, the municipal courts have gradually consolidated into a single superior court.
Recipients of a speeding ticket in Davis, for example, are served at the Yolo Superior Court and not in the city of Davis. In 2001, all 58 counties in California approved to unify their trial courts with statewide funding.
Kevin Johnson, the Dean of UC Davis School of Law, believes the leadership in Yolo County is adapting well to the increasing case loads while balancing the state’s budget crisis.
“All throughout the state cases are going up, and Judge Rosenberg is doing an impressive job keeping closure rates by adjudicating cases,” Johnson said. “Yolo Superior Court is an example of what Chief Justice George was pointing to[in the State of the Judiciary], and I would be surprised to find out that many other counties have such a great disposition rate because these numbers are so darn high.” Johnson said.
MICHAEL STEPANOV can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.