Criminal Courts 2017
“Nothing is permanent but change.”
Truer words were never spoken, especially this year, in the wake of two retirements, added calendars, and a temporary reassignment in the Martinez Criminal Court of Contra Costa County.
Our trial departments have been running at full capacity. During calendar year 2016, the District Attorney filed 2,610 felony cases and 7,773 misdemeanor cases, down slightly from last year’s count of 2,732 felonies and up from 1,021 misdemeanors.
We tried 130 felony cases, which include charges under Penal Code sections 187, 23152, 459/460, and 288, to list just a few. We tried 184 misdemeanor cases and we had 1.13% more dispositions than in the last calendar year. We are working hard to reduce the number of misdemeanor trials, as the statistics show that we, along with San Francisco Superior Court, have the highest number of misdemeanors taken to trial compared to all other courts in the state of California.
I am proud to acknowledge our skilled and hard-working trial judges: Judges Brady, Becton (now retired), Baskin, Burch, Kennedy, Stark, Maier, Cheryl Mills and Bruce Mills. Each of them has run trials back to back for the greater part of this year, including all felonies, and central county misdemeanors. When they have a spare hour or two, they complete a preliminary hearing as well. We will certainly miss Judge Becton as she has decided to pursue her passions away from the judiciary with her retirement. Judge White also retired and we wish them both well. Judge Kennedy’s absence while he is temporarily assigned to the Court of Appeal will also be strongly felt but we are happy for him in his new assignment.
Judge Patricia Scanlon runs our Felony Criminal Calendar Department, which is perpetually busy. She not only handles felony plea bargaining but presides over arraignments, readiness conferences, restitution hearings, pro per calendar, and the ever-burgeoning mental health calendar, and she does so deftly and with dispatch.
Judge John Laettner presides over the companion misdemeanor Criminal Calendar Department, where the volume is extremely high. He hears arraignments, Pittsburg in-custody warrants, pretrial bail matters, plea bargains, pretrial conferences with the attorneys from the Public Defender’s Office, felony evidentiary motions, and misdemeanor motions both evidentiary and non-evidentiary. Judge Laettner runs this department with ease and ensures that all receive a fair shake.
Judge Bruce Mills, a trial judge, maintains a misdemeanor calendar one day per week. He handles misdemeanor motions, probation matters, diversion hearings, and private counsel pretrial hearings on misdemeanor cases. He often finishes this calendar and starts a jury trial on the same day. His efficiency is second to none.
Judge Laurel Brady, a trial judge, is now piloting our very own Veterans Court one Friday per month. She has been working tirelessly behind the scenes for months to ensure that this program gets off to a good start. With a grant in place and program criteria defined with the support of our justice partners, Judge Brady held the first calendar on August 11, 2017. She is passionate about the program and believes it will be strongly received in the veterans’ community.
As for Master Calendar, we now call, in addition to the felony and misdemeanor trials, the preliminary hearing calendar as well. This transition has resulted in an efficient distribution of the preliminary hearings to the trial departments in advance of a trial being sent. We have thus shifted from a situation where the preliminary hearings were either trailed or given different dates entirely, to one where they are heard as expeditiously as possible. Our Master Calendar also functions as a “utility department,” and hears felony probation violations, Behavioral Health Court, Mandatory Domestic Violence Court, felony non-evidentiary motions, special-set preliminary hearings, and occasionally, misdemeanor motions to suppress. There is no longer a Drug Court due to funding issues. The Domestic Violence ISP program was wound down at the end of its grant funding period and has been replaced by a new, high-intensity mandatory domestic violence court, which monitors both felony and misdemeanor defendants based upon particularized criteria.
Our Parole/Mandatory Supervised Release Calendar is now handled in-house by a trial judge if one is available or by our very talented and dedicated retired judges including Judges John Minney, Peter Berger, John Allen and David Flinn. We so appreciate their help in this department and the other departments where they provide coverage for judges who are unavailable due to other commitments, including teaching at the Center for Judicial Education and Research (CJER).
Finally, our Criminal Court must acknowledge our stellar Administrative Management team and staff, our incredible courtroom clerks, our dedicated court reporters, and our stalwart bailiffs, not to mention the attorneys and probation officers who work together to ensure fairness and justice for those involved in the criminal process. You have our profound thanks.