We thought last year’s budget cuts were brutal. Hold onto your hats for 2013!
The major challenge we faced in the last year was the arrival with little advance notice of the Governor’s realignment legislation. As most of you know, the realignment legislation (also known as “AB 109”) made three fundamental changes to the criminal justice system: Sentences for many lower-level felonies are now served in County Jail rather than in State Prison; custody credits for most crimes committed after October 1, 2011 are calculated at 50% (meaning day-for-day credit), and most of the people released from state prison are now being monitored by our Probation Department on post-release community supervision rather than parole. The Courts have been given the added responsibility of presiding over hearings on revocations of post-release community supervision.
Our County fared well in light of the massive changes brought about by realignment. Due primarily to the cooperation of our Criminal Justice Partners, we were prepared to implement the changes and survived the transition smoothly. Our District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Alternate Defender’s Office, conflicts counsel and private bar have worked to negotiate dispositions that take full advantage of the sentencing options under realignment. We have also worked carefully with our Sheriff’s Office and Probation Office to implement those sentences seamlessly. For example, the legislation created the option of a “split sentence,” in which a defendant serves a portion of his or her total sentence in county jail and the remainder on mandatory supervision, which is very similar to probation. Our County stands out as having a far higher percentage of split sentences than most, if not all, other Counties.
Our Criminal Trial Departments have adapted to realignment and managed the heavy volume of cases with dwindling resources. We are fortunate to have seasoned trial judges and an extraordinary support staff. Our felony trial departments in Martinez include Judges Barbara Zúñiga, Mary Ann O’Malley, Thomas Maddock, Leslie Landau, Susanne Fenstermacher, Brian Haynes, and Lewis Davis. These excellent and experienced trial judges have applied their considerable talents to try or otherwise resolve the felony cases before them within the speedy trial constraints.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our support staff. Despite having suffered substantial reductions in their ranks, our staff members have worked tirelessly with us to bring these cases to trial. During 2011, the District Attorney filed 3,305 felony cases and 8,999 misdemeanors. We tried 100 jury trials, including 11 homicides and 12 sexual assault cases. Our Criminal Calendar Departments have handled the crushing workload of all of the pretrial matters between indictment or information and trial.
Judge Clare Maier, with her boundless energy and enthusiasm, has conducted all of our felony pretrial hearings, plus a multitude of other pre- and post-trial matters. She has applied her years of experience and innate sense of compassion to negotiating fair dispositions of the vast majority of our felony cases.
Judge Maier commends the exemplary work of the Deputy District Attorneys, Deputy Public Defenders, and Attorneys from the Alternate Defender’s Office, conflicts panel, and the private bar for keeping the cases flowing smoothly despite their own staggering caseloads and personnel cuts.
Judge John Laettner has handled our collaborative courts, including our domestic violence, Prop. 36, and FADS (Felony Alternative Drug Sentencing) courts. He also presides over many of our Preliminary Hearings and adjudicates the bulk of the pretrial motions in our felony cases.
Judge Nancy Davis Stark has overseen our Mount Diablo Court, which conducts arraignments, pretrial conferences, PC 1538.5 suppression motions, arraignments, and innumerable bench warrant returns. With her trademark efficiency, Judge Stark has added to this heavy mix the probation revocation and post-release community supervision revocation calendars.
Judge Joni Hiramoto has managed the Behavioral Health Court (“BHC”) she created, in addition to presiding over juvenile cases in Richmond.
Judge Joyce Cram has presided over our dedicated Elder Court, including criminal cases alleging crimes against elder victims.
As you know, we have been forced by budget cuts to close our Walnut Creek Courthouse to all but traffic cases beginning in January 2013. As a result, we will have to absorb all of the criminal cases from the busy Walnut Creek Branch Court into our criminal courts. We are meeting daily with Judges, staff, and our Criminal Justice Partners to plan for this major transition. Our goal remains to handle all of the criminal cases fairly and promptly despite our severe budget reductions.
The changes we will see in 2013 undoubtedly will present many challenges. We intend to work collaboratively with our Judges, staff, and Criminal Justice Partners to complete this transition efficiently and effectively.
Filed Under: Spotlight