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Monday, February 08, 2010
COUNTY COURT IN DISARRAY!!
The Colonel of County Court reports:
Alright, remain seated and listen up. We continued our reconnoiter of the Monday County Court situation and things are not looking good. This experiment of no soundings is headed towards failure.
The simple reason is that courts don't work if people cannot get into court. And the standing room only crowds of clients, witnesses, lawyers, and officers spilled into the hallway several people deep outside of the courtrooms of Judges Bloom, Newman, Miranda, Ortiz, Seff, Serrafin, and Krieger-Martin.
Here's what some of the soldiers in the field are reporting:
" Judge Miranda was slammed this am with so many traffic cases it was literraly impossible to get in to the courtroom up through 11 am."
" Newman was impossible to get into up to 10:30."
" Bloom was uncharacteristically flustered and running way behind all morning and was having a hard time handling the large amount of traffic cases."
Bottom line- judges are realizing they cannot do a Monday trial calendar with all the traffic cases that weren't sounded being set. Many clients were in the hallway when their case was called leading to some short tempers and Judicial threats to take people into custody when they finally struggled into the courtroom late.
We can report that Judge Luise Krieger-Martin has started setting some traffic cases for trial Wednesday mornings and that has eased the over flow in her courtroom a bit.
Here's an even larger problem: Most cases handled by attorneys in traffic court are now being done by firms. The firms promote the idea of being able to handle the case without the client appearing in court. As such, the firms file motions to represent and plea or have a trial in absentia, as the rules allow.
Judges Krieger-Martin and Ortiz reasonably let the attorney handle the case on the Monday trial setting. If the state's witnesses fail to appear, the case is dismissed. If the State is ready, in more than 99% of the case the case is settled.
However Judges Newman, Bloom and Miranda are totally unreasonable on this- forcing pleas even where the prosecution is not ready. Their disingenuous response to the situation is that the attorney can calendar the case before the trial setting and ask permission to proceed in absentia. However- again knowing that most traffic firms have 25-100 cases set on Mondays- this is akin to asking each firm to create it's own sounding calendar for each judge - necessitating the attorney to call the JA, schedule a hearing, and attending court to ask permission for what Judges Ortiz and Krieger-Martin reasonably allow on most traffic cases like NVDL, driving without glasses, or other simple traffic cases.
The Colonel calls on Judge Slom to step in and explain to these Judges the reasonableness of allowing them to proceed in absentia on these non-DUI traffic cases. The attorneys who routinely proceed in absentia are well versed in the requirements including having fingerprints for their clients when the state is offering an adjudication.
Finally- there is this problem rearing it's ugly head- the DWLS conundrum.
Most regular criminal traffic defense attorneys know that 3 DWLS pleas (Including withholds) results in a client being habitualized and losing their license for five years.
In recognition of this harsh sanction, the prosecution in many cases would alert the court and the defense to this potential outcome at sounding- and usually offer a reduction in charges- usually to NVDL with 200 community service hours. It was a fair and reasonable settlement.
Now however- without the soundings- these problems are first coming to light at the trial stage when the prosecution is reluctant to offer the reduced charge. There is no apparent solution to this problem.
Summary- County Court is currently a mess- and not just from the defense side of things. The increased caseload on Mondays has pushed overworked courtroom staff to the breaking point. It's not unusual for morning calendar to run to close to 1pm, and it is not until then that the Judges can discuss giving their staff a quick lunch break before getting to the DUI motions and trials. This experiment is failing and we predict it will not last.
Dismissed. And remember- as difficult as things are these days, there's gold in dem dere misdemeanors.
UPDATE- A reader had a good comment:
When judges go to judge school, do they talk about the art and science of the bench warrant? I ask because it appears, as it has for years, that bench warrants should be issued when the client fails to appear.
Am I wrong? Are bench warrants meant to be our version of "if you're not in your seat when the bell rings you're late?" Are bench warrants meant to help judges close cases when they are asked to set them aside and then turn to the state and ask "what's the offer?" Are they meant to send the police out to arrest defendants at 9:03 even after the lawyer advises that the client just called from "the line" and are looking at a conveyer belt of shoes moving along?
Maybe like all prosecutors take a tour of the jail, all judges should be required to come to the building one day at 8:15 in plain clothes, park, and come to the building. Then maybe they wouldn't roll their eyes about how its more difficult to get into the REGJB than it is the airport, where they're looking for people who want to blow up airplanes, not just listen to their lawyer ask for a defense continuance or take a withhold on a pot case.