The Daily Democrat wrote a story on this January 3 and the Enterprise on January 10.
“Judge David Rosenberg has helped to streamline the functions of Yolo Superior Court, but is starting his second term as presiding judge with some new and existing challenges.
Under Rosenberg’s last term, he implemented a new calendar system to address an increasing backlog of cases. The inefficient court calendar of the past meant only 55 criminal trials went through the Yolo judicial system a year, and defendants had to wait more than eight months for their day in court.
Rosenberg reconfigured court proceedings to a vertical calendar system, in which only one judge is assigned to a case for all major purposes, instead of several. Taking out the middle man, so to speak, more than doubled the capacity for cases and broke an all-time record with 121 trials in 2008.”
Wrote the Davis Enterprise:
“Like most public agencies, Yolo Superior Court had to figure out how to accomplish more work with less cash in 2009 – and is poised to continue doing so in 2010.
But Judge David Rosenberg, who earlier this month began his second term as the court’s presiding judge, said the court’s goal remains the same – ‘to give people fair but expeditious justice. We want to continue to move cases through the system.’
Under a vertical calendaring system implemented in 2007 – in which a single judge hears a case from start to finish – Yolo judges presided over 122 criminal jury trials in 2009, more than twice that of 2006.
The increase in trials – including some multi-defendant murder cases that have been pending for as long as eight years – has resulted in some relief for the Yolo County Jail, which has released as many as 3,300 low-level offenders a year to make room for the county’s more serious alleged felons.
Thousands more cases were resolved before reaching the trial stage.
‘We’ve pretty much eliminated downtime,’ doing so with a budget that’s $1 million leaner than the previous year’s, Rosenberg said. ‘We’ve had to deal with that while maintaining the same workload, and maintaining staff morale.’ “
The proximity of the reports indicates more than mere coincidence. Rather it is a concerted effort by some to bring publicity to claims that a problem has been addressed and the system is working better.
Wrote Supervisor Matt Rexroad in response to a story in the Vanguard:
“Reisig and Rosenberg both deserve credit for cleaning out the people that were in the Monroe Detention Center awaiting trial. They have saved Yolo County millions of dollars by working to improve efficiency in this area.”
Mr. Rexroad called for me to do some of my own investigation. He will get his wish on this. Part of the problem I have is that I simply do not believe a number of the cases that end up being prosecuted and go to trial, should have been charged in the first place. There are a number of cases are either overcharged and therefore end up in trial because the plea agreement is too high for the defense to accept or where the defendant is actually innocent.
How many? That is a question that we will be attempting to answer in the coming weeks and months with a new project that will be launched next week.
None of the previous articles even asked this question. In a rather haphazard manner, we have observed a number of cases that appear to have been overcharged to begin with, some cases where there is actually question as to the guilt of an individual who was convicted, and other cases where the jury against overwhelming odds actually exonerated the accused.
While we have anecdotal evidence of a few trials, we lack a systematic approach to study the Yolo County Justice System.
What I can tell you at this time is that an unusually high number of cases that end up going to trial end up wins for the defendant. The number has unofficially been cited as high as 40%. From a practical standpoint that should never occur. The District Attorney has a huge advantage in that they determine what cases to take, which cases to accept plea agreements on, and how much to charge. They hold all of the advantages. If they are barely breaking even on trial cases, that indicates a huge problem in the system that there are a number of cases that should never have gone to trial.
So it may be that research will indicate that the problem was not merely the inefficiency of the court system but also the fact that the system is being clogged with too many cases that should have either never have been prosecuted or that a more reasonable charging system would have resulted in a plea agreement. If that number really is 40%, then the 120 cases that have gone through the system could be reduced easily to 80, a far more manageable number that will not tax the system.
A question that we must ask is how much money are we spending on cases when better prosecutorial discretion would have eliminated completely or at a far earlier stage. This is a question we hope to get a better handle on as well as the 90% conviction rate that is often cited by the District Attorney. If a lot of these are overcharged cases that end up with a nominal conviction, is that really a win for the District Attorney? Not to mention perhaps the philosophical question as to whether the job of the District Attorney is to get convictions or rather to see that justice is done and that guilty people end up convicted and the innocent go free.
The Vanguard will have a major announcement on this next week and we will begin to get hard data to address some of these critical issues.
—David M. Greenwald reporting