In Orange County, where the cases are plentiful and the funds are tight, we have a judge who plays a kind of "Russian Roulette" with his trial docket and costs the taxpayers more money than is necessary.
Having worked in the prosecutor's office in a substantially smaller jurisdiction (population 120,000), the learning curve I experienced when starting this program was a bit daunting.
In Orange County, each judge has his/her own division where their cases are heard. There are 12 felony divisions, a similar number of misdemeanor divisions, plus several judges that do trial assistance for the divisions on a rotating basis.
To view a flow chart of the process a criminal case takes through the courts, click here.
During part of the calendar each month there are a couple of weeks where various motions are heard. These can include pretrial motions/hearings (e.g., bond motions, motion to suppress evidence, a motion to modify terms of pretrial release, etc.) or post conviction hearings (e.g., sentencing, violation of probation, etc.). Once a case has its "pretrial conference" during this period, all pretrial motions, depositions, and other matters are supposed to be completed. The trial period begins approximately 10 days later.
When you have a trial date, your case will be set for the first day of a 2 or 3 week trial period. Obviously, not all of those cases will be heard that day. The court does a triage (which is incredibly chaotic to those not familiar with the process) and determines which cases on its docket really will be going to trial during that 2 or 3 week period. The rest of the cases either get continued or resolved in some fashion - usually being "nolle prossed" (i.e., dropped) or pled out.
Here's where we get to the "Russian Roulette."
An observer in his courtroom noted that both the State and Public Defenders have requested more than one day's notice for trial - giving them adequate time to prepare, to have witnesses ready, etc.
They were told by the judge that "uncertainty causes cases to resolve."
Uncertainty causes cases to resolve?
Does the judge prefer to have cases either plead out or dropped because a victim or other witness is unavailable at his whim? Are victims and other witnesses (both for the State and Defense) expected to drop what they're doing and be available at a moment's notice during the entire 2 or 3 week trial period?
What happened to providing justice to our citizens? Witnesses often have jobs and/or childcare for which arrangements need to be made. For out-of-town witnesses, the State pays exhorbitant transportation costs when all they have is one day's notice of trial.
Defendants, whose freedoms are at stake, are supposed to be represented by an attorney who is not as prepared as they could be with just a few extra days notice?
It seems as though Judge Shea enjoys creating uncertainty in his courtroom.
The citizens of Orange County deserve better.