Criminal Courts 2019

Criminal Courts 2019

“The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government.”

–President George Washington

This past year has seen a number of innovations to our Martinez Criminal Court, and 2020 will bring some new faces as well as the loss of those who have contributed mightily to the successful running of the trial calendar.

Before we talk about the faces of change, we need to discuss the review of case filings this year. In 2018, the District Attorney’s Office filed 885 felony cases and 2,574 misdemeanors, which is slightly up for both from the 2017 numbers.

In 2018, 102 felony cases proceeded to trial, as did 63 misdemeanor cases. The year 2019 looks to be in sync with these numbers. We have shortened the time for the setting of misdemeanor pretrial conferences, previously a four-month stretch from arraignment, due largely to Judge Wade Rhyne’s efforts in Department 37. While the misdemeanor trial calendar is still very large, a number of cases have resolved on day of trial either by dismissal (normally, lower-level drug cases), by pleading or by going to trial. Judge Rhyne’s department was also reconfigured this year, in that his misdemeanor probation calendar was, and is, handled by Judge David Goldstein in Department. 6.

Judge Goldstein’s department primarily handles felony arraignments, bail motions, law and motion matters, changes of plea, and formal misdemeanor probation on domestic violence matters. Judge Goldstein has managed to smoothly incorporate the probation calendar from Department 37 into his matrix, and that calendar will remain as part of that matrix in the coming year. Our hardworking trial judges include Judges Nancy Davis Stark, Anita Santos, Charles “Ben” Burch (soon to return to a Civil/Family position), John Kennedy (who, by the time of this printing, will be taking over duties in Juvenile for the retired Judge Lois Haight), John Cope (who is sitting in Judge Stark’s place pending her return), Laurel Brady (who will be leaving to assume responsibility for the specialty department currently run by Judge Goldstein), Christopher Bowen (who will be leaving to become Supervising Judge, Richmond Branch Court) and Mary Ann O’Malley (leaving Pittsburg at the time of this printing to replace Judge Kennedy). We will also add to our trial roster Judge Patricia Scanlon, currently running our Felony Criminal Calendar most efficiently these past four years. Her current department is a busy mix of post-preliminary hearing felony arraignments, sets, changes of plea, restitution, pro per matters, and the felony probation and parole calendars.

In addition to her duties as a trial judge, Judge Laurel Brady also handles our Veterans Treatment Court, which has been wildly successful and graduated its first class of five veterans on August 16, 2019. They enjoyed a catered luncheon to celebrate their success, sharing it with all of the treatment and support providers who have been instrumental this year in working with the team. For those who don’t know, the program consists of a minimum 18-month program, during which veterans receive individualized treatment programs and care through Veterans Affairs, local agencies and hospitals. The team includes the District Attorney, Public Defender or private counsel, Probation, Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist Officer, County Veterans Services Officer, and veteran mentors. Judge Brady will continue to work with this program when she moves on next year to the specialty court assignment.

Judge Clare Maier has moved back to Martinez to run the Mental Health Court, another of our specialty courts which hears over 100 cases per week, and with which she is very familiar.

Last but not least, Dept. 35 Master Calendar continues to call the felony, misdemeanor, and preliminary hearing calendars, and to hear trials as well as preliminary hearings as needed.

In closing, we need to acknowledge two trial judges who have served long stints in this assignment. Judge John Kennedy has been an icon on our trial staff, handling mega-cases for many years with his cool, calm, and collected demeanor. We will miss having him here. Our loss is certainly a gain for Juvenile Justice and we know he will be an asset to their team in Walnut Creek. Also, Judge Ben Burch has sat as a trial judge for over 10 years. He has worked diligently on a wide variety of cases, and always with an eye for ferreting out the interesting quirks of a proceeding. His diligence will be much missed.
Finally, we wish to thank our talented pool of retired judges who sit on assignment—not only from Contra Costa County, but from Alameda, Calaveras, Sonoma and Solano Counties, just to name a few. We appreciate all the help they provide to our bench and always enjoy having them here.

We heartily thank our Administrative Management Team and staff, diligent courtroom clerks, skilled court reporters, and hardworking bailiffs, as well as the attorneys and probation officers who handle large caseloads with skill and expertise. Cheers!