California’s demand for equal access to justice

Stew Jenkins

OPINION by STEW JENKINS

Editors note: This is the third in a three-part about problem’s with Californian’s access to the federal court system.

In the first and second parts of this series, the fact that California has only half the federal judges serving the east coast was revealed; and the barriers of distance keeping Californians as parties, witnesses and jurors from having practical admission to federal justice was explained. Here is the formula that can give Californian’s equal access.

An expansion of the number of, and a spreading out of current and new Federal Judges throughout California, would bring rural as well as urban perspectives (not only in judges, but for jurors, parties, and lawyers) to the federal judiciary serving California and the Ninth District. Seventy-six new federal attorney’s offices would open, spread evenly throughout the state.

Even in Los Angeles County, access to courts would improve. Parties, witnesses and jurors who must now navigate the impacted and unpredictable transportation systems to one central point downtown would have courts within easy and timely reach spread over each of Los Angeles County’s Assembly Districts.

The construction of new federal court buildings in rural communities like Santa Maria or Arroyo Grande or San Luis Obispo would not only provide residents with practical access to justice, but spur economic expansion and ongoing rural community employment. This effect would benefit local communities in each Assembly District.

Solving the lack of practical access to Federal Courts for Californians should be attractive to members of both political parties, both committed to equal justice.

To overcome the impairment to Californians’ right to equal access to federal district courts, California’s legislature should adopt the following resolution of the California Assembly urging Congress to amend U.S. Code, Title 28, § 84 as set forth in the resolution:

Be it resolved that Californian’s rights to due process is impaired so long as they have impaired access to the federal courts. California has 40 Million residents, and yet has only half the number of Federal District Judges as now serve the 48 Million residents in the same geographic area of in Eleven Federal Court Districts serving Georgia, South Caroline, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. California residents are deprived of access to the courts by the sheer size of its Four Federal Court Districts, often having to drive 250 and 300 miles as a juror, witness or party to attend court; compared to 96 miles for residents on the eastern seaboard.

Californians now have one Federal District Judge for every 500,000 residents, roughly equal to the population of each California Assembly District. The California Assembly is the most numerous branch of the State Legislature.

Be it resolved that the California Legislature, if you can make this a joint resolution formally requests the United States Congress to amend U.S. Code Title 28, § 84, to create one Federal District Court in and for each California Assembly District, as drawn under the laws of California from time to time; each such district having one Federal District Judge (judicial position) sitting in such district for each 250,000 residents of the District.

A proposed Amended § 84 should read as follows:

Number and Definitions of Districts for California

The Northern, Eastern, Central and Southern Districts of California are hereby terminated, effective on the first Monday of January following adoption of this amended section. Each Judge appointed to those Districts shall continue to serve for his or her term of office in one of the new Districts created hereby. California is, henceforth, divided into eighty judicial districts to be known as the First through Eightieth Districts of California, respectively. The First District comprises, and shall comprise, the area of the First California State Assembly District, as now or from time to time in future, defined by the law of California. Each of the other seventy-nine numbered California United State Court Districts shall be comprised of the area now, or from time to time in future, defined by the law of California for the like numbered California State Assembly District. The Judges sitting in each District shall hold Court at a suitable site in a city within the District which is at or near the location that the Judges of that District determine is geographically central to the District’s population. If there is only one Judge sitting in a District during the transition, that Judge may make the determination for siting the Court facilities.

Number and Apportionment of Judges

Notwithstanding any other law, there shall be one United States District Judge appointed to sit in and do justice in each of the Districts in the State of California for each 250,000 residents of the District, as determined at each national census. As of the amendment of this section, each district created hereby in California shall have two U.S. District Judicial seats. At any time a national census determines that the number of residents of a District exceeds 750,000, a third Judge shall be appointed to sit and do justice in that District.

Transition

Each of the current U.S. District Judges for the State of California for the prior Northern, Eastern, Central and Southern Districts shall select which of the new numbered Districts he or she desires to serve in. That selection will be made during the three months following adoption of this amended section. In the event that more than two current said jurists chose the same numbered District, those judges names shall be placed in a jury lottery box, and the first two names pulled shall be selected to sit in that numbered District. The Judge(s) not selected will immediately select another numbered District in which at least one vacancy has not been selected by other current Judges in which he or she will henceforth sit and do justice. The President shall, subject to confirmation by the Senate, make appointment of Judges to the seats created hereby in each District not selected by a current sitting U.S. District Judge from California. The United States will pay the reasonable moving expenses of a Judge who desires to move his or her residence into the new numbered District in which he or she has chosen to serve. The United States shall pay for the purchase, reasonable construction and/or remodeling of Court, Clerk, Research Attorney, and Prisoner Holding facilities in each numbered District directed by the Judge(s) determining the siting of the Court in each District.

Stew Jenkins is a San Luis Obispo County attorney practicing in San Luis Obispo since 1978. Jenkins’ handles municipal law, Brown Act and Public Records Act cases, estate planning and family law. He supports open government, the rights of working people to organize unions, growing the local economy with project labor agreements, the right of all people to health care and equal access to justice

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