Civil Division Update

Civil Division Update

In June and July, the Civil Division experienced a stark example of “good news/bad news.” First, the bad news: Lowell Richards, our distinguished and admired commissioner, has retired. For over eighteen years, he presided adeptly over all types of matters: civil harassment restraining orders, small claims, unlawful detainers, and traffic cases. He taught about those matters at the California Judicial College. He will be greatly missed, not only for his legal acumen, but for his wit and affability. Now, the good news: he has been succeeded by our newest commissioner, Diana Kruze. Commissioner Kruze comes to us from Morrison & Foerster, and has experience serving as a judge pro tem in San Francisco. She hit the ground running and is already handling busy calendars with aplomb.

And that transition wasn’t the first for the year. At the end of 2018, Commissioner Terrye Davis was appointed by Governor Brown as a judge of the Superior Court for Solano County. Our loss is Solano County’s gain. But again, the good news: she has been ably succeeded by new Commissioner Jennifer Lee (formerly Turk).

Even with a new commissioner, we still need a steady supply of experienced attorneys willing to serve as pro tem judges periodically. So, if you’re so inclined, you should apply to the court and undergo our Temporary Judge Training Program.

Beginning in March, limited jurisdiction matters were reassigned so that they are all heard in one department (currently Judge Susanne Fenstermacher). This will allow us to handle them more efficiently, and should make life easier for the attorneys who handle a large number of those matters, who no longer have to scurry from department to department for case management conferences and orders to show cause.
Also in the past year, we have experienced the retirement of a number of our experienced courtroom clerks. As a result, some of the clerks working in the civil and criminal and Civil Clerk’s Office (located in the basement of the Wakefield Taylor Courthouse), have moved into the courtroom, so you may have seen some new faces. In turn, we have many new clerks in the clerk’s office, but a substantial training effort has allowed us to continue serving the public without increasing waiting time.

Our statistics show that unlimited civil complaint filings have gone up each year since 2015. To help address this, beginning in January of 2020, the Civil Division will expand its resources from the current 4.5 judges to 5 full-time civil judges. This should ease caseloads and speed the resolution of civil matters. We will say goodbye to Judge Susanne Fenstermacher, who will become a full-time probate judge. We will welcome Judge Charles “Ben” Burch. Judge Burch is a veteran of the court who has been assigned primarily to criminal trials, but has spent some time hearing probate and family law trials. He is already looking forward to the challenge of handling a civil docket.

Next year, Judge Steve Austin will take over as Supervising Judge of the Civil Division, and his extensive experience both as a judge and an attorney will be of great benefit to all.

Finally, you probably have noticed that parking in downtown Martinez has gotten even more difficult in the last year, as construction projects have removed some spaces from the current inventory, making things difficult for attorneys, litigants, and jurors. Over the next six months to a year, as these projects finish up, some spaces will again become available, some new spaces will be added, and there will be fewer construction workers parking their own vehicles downtown. Accordingly, the parking situation should get better over time. Until then, remember to allow time to park!

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