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State high court upholds dismissal of 18 criminal cases in Riverside County because of judges shortage [Updated]

October 25, 2010 | 12:04 pm

California's budget crisis has proved a boon for some defendants.

In a unanimous ruling, the California Supreme Court on Monday upheld the dismissal of 18 criminal cases, two of them felonies, in Riverside County because there were not enough judges to hear them.

The court blamed the problem on the state's failure to hire more judges.

Chief Justice Ronald M. George, writing for the court, said Riverside County's "congested criminal caseload represented a chronic" problem.

"The lack of available courtrooms and judges was attributable to the Legislature's failure to provide a number of judges and courtrooms sufficient to meet the rapidly growing population in Riverside County," wrote George, who has been lobbying legislators for years for more judges.

The defendants in the two felonies and 16 misdemeanors declined to waive their rights to a speedy trial, forcing a trial judge to dismiss the charges because there were no courtrooms available. Riverside County prosecutors challenged the dismissal, arguing that the court should have made every judge in the courthouse, including those in juvenile, family law and probate, available for the cases.

[Updated at 12:40 p.m.: The ruling also was a victory for defendants in an additional 300 Riverside County criminal cases that had been dismissed for lack of judges and were on appeal, said County Deputy Public Defender Wiliam A. Meronek. 

"The courts are just overwhelmed by both the exponential growth in population and by some extent to the district attorney's charging policy," Meronek said. "They tend to pursue everything, and they are reluctant to plea bargain or negotiate any settlement."]

-- Maura Dolan