Number Of Cases Booted By Riverside County Judges Approaches 1,100

City News Service

(CNS) – The number of cases dismissed by Riverside County judges contending with a backlog that accumulated during the COVID public health lockdowns is just under 1,100, many of them assault and domestic violence filings — as well as a few for attempted murder and kidnapping, the District Attorney’s Office said Monday.

“Our office respectfully disagrees with the decisions the judges continue to make regarding mass case dismissals,” District Attorney Mike Hestrin said. “A one-size fits all approach of blanket case dismissals is not the answer. We are continuing to ask the bench to look at each case individually to determine if there is good cause to continue the matter until a courtroom becomes available.”

The latest figures published by the D.A.’s office indicated that 1,098 cases had been booted by judges countywide since the second week of October.

The majority — 691 — were dismissed by judicial officers at the Larson Justice Center in Indio. The next highest amount was at the Banning Justice Center, where 181 had been tossed, with 120 unloaded at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta, 93 at the Riverside Hall of Justice and 13 at the Blythe Courthouse.

A misdemeanor sexual battery case out of Riverside, People v. Jose Cruz, was held out by prosecutors last week as an example of the prospective harm done by the dismissals. A failure to print sufficient jury notices to summon a pool for the defendant’s trial led to delays and culminated with Judge John Molloy vacating the matter when no courtrooms came available for trial.

The alleged victim, a woman whose identity was not released, released a statement saying she opposed the judge’s decision, “and I am disappointed that justice was not served. (The defendant) is now a free man … who received zero consequences.”

A Superior Court spokeswoman said the mechanical snafu that resulted in the lack of jury summonses has since been rectified by the court’s vendor- printer, Taylor Communications.

According to data, the lion’s share of cases dismissed — 1,015 — were misdemeanor filings, many of them domestic violence matters. However, figures revealed that close to 30 have been felony assault with a deadly weapon cases, along with five alleged kidnappings, five alleged robberies and five alleged attempted murders.

“One thousand cases dismissed is a thousand too many,” Hestrin said. “These are real cases with real victims. The victims deserve the right to have their case heard in a court of law. Our victims of crime are being deprived of justice because of a case backlog in the courts.”

Judges have been vacating cases almost daily since Oct. 10, generally citing lack of available courtroom space for trials as the main rationale for the dismissals. Most of the cases were added to dockets during the public health lockdowns, when courts suspended many operations under emergency orders from the California Office of the Chief Justice.

A backlog of roughly 2,800 cases developed. The chief justice’s orders expired on Oct. 7.

Superior Court Presiding Judge John Monterosso released a statement on Oct. 25 acknowledging the court system was bearing a heavy load, traced to the lockdowns and consequent changes in court operations.

“I share others’ frustration when a case is not resolved on the merits, or due process is impaired, due to a lack of available judicial resources,” Monterosso said. “The genesis of the current set of circumstances is the chronic and generational lack of judges allocated to serve Riverside County.”

He emphasized the county has 90 authorized and funded judicial positions, but a 2020 Judicial Needs Assessment Study noted that 115 judicial officers are needed to ensure efficient operations throughout the local court system and prevent logjams.

“While the law allows a court to continue a case beyond the statutory deadline for `good cause,’ the decision on whether `good cause’ exists is an individualized decision made by the trial judge based on the law and the facts of the case,” Monterosso said.

Hestrin questioned the legitimacy of basing dismissals on a deficit of judicial resources, given that “this has been the case as far back as anyone can remember.”

“The consequences of the decisions being made from our judges is going to cause extreme harm to victims of crime and our community at-large,” he said.

According to prosecutors, some of the dismissals are being appealed, while other cases are being re-filed in response to the judges’ actions.

The backlog is reminiscent of the cumulative impact of a buildup of unresolved criminal cases in 2007 that prompted the state to dispatch a “judicial strike team” to the county to help sort through criminal cases clogging the court system.

At the time, the Superior Court virtually halted civil jury trials for months while judges focused on reducing the strain on resources. An empty elementary school was even converted into a makeshift courthouse.

Copyright 2022, City News Service, Inc.

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