Not enough judges to hear cases at Fresno County Court. The shortage has recently postponed some high profile preliminary hearings. The presiding judge says it's an issue the court has been dealing with for a long time, and state budget cuts aren't helping matters.
It's a big inconvenience for everyone involved, from attorneys to witnesses. The bottom line is that there aren't enough judges for the case-load coming in and unfortunately, there's no current plan to fix the problem.
In two days, two big cases set for preliminary hearings had to be rescheduled because Fresno County Court didn't have a judge available.
"This is a good day to come here and see this," said Honorable Gary Hoff, Presiding Judge.
Judge Hoff says the number of cases coming in could keep 72 judges busy, but the court only has 49 judges and sometimes there aren't enough to go around.
"Cases recently, in the last couple days, that had preliminary hearings set were 'long cause.' By that, I mean they'd take more than a couple hours, obviously not enough time to do them in their courtrooms because they're busy," said Hoff.
One of those cases was Jeff Hammerschmidt's. His client, Loren LeBeau, is accused of driving under the influence and killing a child. It had to be rescheduled for next week.
"Really it was more inconvenient for the witnesses. Fresno Police Department had a number of officers there; they had a number of officers on call," said Hammerschmidt, an attorney.
He thinks the presiding judge is doing a good job with the tools he has. This happens to be the busiest time of year for trials, which tie up judges for weeks at a time.
"This is business as usual. It's a numbers game; how you plug people in on a day-to-day basis to cover our shortfalls," said Hoff.
Hoff says no case has ever been dismissed because it timed out, but there have been some close calls. The court is waiting for the State of California to fund four new judge positions, which would help out. But Hoff doesn't expect that to happen until next year at the earliest.