Criminal Courts 2018
“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you might find, you get what you need.”
Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed, 1969
We in the Martinez Criminal Court of Contra Costa County have had our fair share this year of getting what we want, as well as trying to get what we need. 2017-2018 has proven to be both challenging as well as innovative!
Innovative, due to the creation of a Mental Health Department and the launching of a much-needed Veteran’s Court; and challenging, due to new administrative regulations regarding judges sitting by assignment, as well as the Jameson Decision requiring the court to provide court reporters in certain civil and family law proceedings.
But our starting point, as always, is a review of the number of case filings this year. In 2017, the District Attorney’s Office filed 2,511 felony cases and 884 misdemeanors, which is down from the 3,268 felony complaints and a slight uptick of 80 misdemeanor complaints from the 2016 numbers.
In 2017, 103 felony cases went to trial, as did 63 misdemeanor cases. 2018 looks to be right in line with this same amount. We have made great strides in reducing the number of misdemeanors which proceeded to trial, for which Judge Christopher Bowen, who runs Department 40, is largely responsible. His department will be reconfigured as of September 10, 2018 to a misdemeanor-only calendar with electronic reporting, due to the above-noted decision allocating court reporters to particular family law and civil proceedings. Judge Bowen’s felony matters, including pre-preliminary arraignments, sets, changes of plea, bail hearings, and warrants, will be re-directed to Department 35. His felony law and motion matters will be heard by Judge Laurel Brady.
Our hardworking trial judge lineup includes Judges Barry Baskin (soon to assume the mantle of Presiding Judge), Charles “Ben” Burch, Lewis Davis (now assuming the responsibility for the Mental Health Court), John Kennedy, Cheryl Mills (who also handles the misdemeanor probation and motions calendar on Mondays), Anita Santos, and Nancy Davis Stark. When not engaged in back-to-back trials, these judges hear preliminary hearings, bail motions, and any other overflow work from the various calendar departments.
Judge Patricia Scanlon has run our Felony Criminal Calendar Department for several years, and has volunteered to do so again in 2019. It is an incredibly busy assignment, soon to become even more so with the addition of the Parole/PR SC calendar as of September 10, 2018. Along with the felony probation calendar, she handles all post-preliminary hearing felony matters including arraignments, sets, changes of plea, bail motions, restitution hearings, and pro per inmate matters.
Judge Laurel Brady has been instrumental this year in setting-up the Mental Health Court that allows for a concentration of specialized doctors and the team of defense counsel, prosecutors and others to focus on the growing mental health caseload. This program is still in its infancy but is expected to serve those in the criminal justice system who need mental health care and assist them with access to community treatment and care as an alternative to incarceration.
Judge Brady also directs the Behavioral Health Court and Veteran’s Treatment Court. This latter specialty court currently has 17 veterans participating in the program. During the minimum 18-month program, veterans receive individualized treatment programs and care through Veteran’s Affairs, other local agencies and hospitals. The team, comprised of the District Attorney, Public Defender or other defense counsel, Probation, Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist, County Veterans Services Officer, Veteran Mentors and the Court all collaborate to provide our veterans with the much deserved care and treatment they need, while helping them work through the justice system to get back on their feet. Judge Brady hears the Behavioral Health Calendar on Wednesday afternoons. However, as she is currently assigned to a lengthy co-defendant trial, her matters are now heard by Judge Lewis Davis, who has graciously agreed to spearhead the Mental Health Court until she concludes the trial.
Finally, our Master Calendar continues to call the felony, misdemeanor, and preliminary hearing calendars, and to hear non-evidentiary felony motions, preliminary hearings, bail hearings, and the grant-funded Domestic Violence Court. It will hear all other pre-preliminary felony matters as of September 10, 2018, as noted above.
We wish to thank our talented pool of retired judges who sit by assignment– not only from Contra Costa County, but from Alameda, Calaveras and Solano Counties, just to name a few. Given the new rules promulgated by the Judicial Council as to the number of hours they can sit per year, we can only hope that these amazing judges will continue to return to assist our courts next year (and thereafter).
Last but not least, we heartily thank our Administrative Management Team and staff, wonderful courtroom clerks, hardworking court reporters, and efficient bailiffs, as well as the attorneys and probation officers who toil in our departments every day, ensuring that justice and fairness are provided to all. Salud!