In late December 2020, California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye announced plans to launch a program aimed at fast tracking the resolution of criminal cases by making retired judges available through the Temporary Assigned Judges Program.
The temporary, fact track initiative will help ease significant criminal case backlogs that have accrued in counties around the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic and steps taken by trial courts to protect the health and safety of court users and staff.
“Courts, prosecutors and defense attorneys will face a substantial number of cases as we emerge from shelter in place orders and the COVID-19 pandemic unless the justice community makes a concerted effort to take action now,” Cantil-Sakauye said.
In a memo to court leaders she explained how the burden of the pandemic-induced criminal trial backlog falls on all justice system partners, victims and defendants.
Prosecutors may have witnesses who become unavailable over time or find that evidence in the case has become stale. Defendants and their counsel must continue to develop the defense case with counsel having only limited access to in-custody defendants.
In addition, defendants who are out of custody are often severely hampered in their ability to steady their lives through employment, obtaining a driver’s license, moving to lower cost housing, etc. and victims find themselves without timely resolution or restitution.
To help address these issues the proposed program will assist the courts in establishing readiness conferences for the early disposition of criminal cases.
Cantil-Sakauye is reinforcing the effort by making retired judges available through the Temporary Assigned Judges Program (TAJP) as needed at the request of the presiding judge in each county.
The success of this program according to Cantil-Sakauye, will likely hinge on judges who understand the local court culture and are highly regarded by both the defense and the prosecution.
S.E. Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News.