State gives Stanislaus two new judgeships

Stanislaus County will get two new judges this year, in addition to three judgeships created last year that have not been filled.

Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a bill Monday that creates 50 new judgeships statewide, mostly in the Central Valley and Inland Empire east of Los Angeles, where the judicial system has not kept pace with population growth.

The new positions come on top of 50 positions created last year, and another 50 judgeships are expected next year. The governor made a host of appointments in surrounding counties this summer, but the Stanislaus County seats remain up for grabs.

"The governor wanted diversity on the bench, and that could be a variable," said Mike Tozzi, executive officer of the Stanislaus County Superior Court.

Along with the new positions comes a new requirement: The commission that handles judicial nominations, which are confidential, now must release demographic data about its applicants. The state's population is 45 percent white, but the judiciary remains 70 percent white and 73 percent male.

In Stanislaus County, 12 of 17 judges are men, and 16 judges are white.

The Judicial Council, a governing board that oversees state courts, lobbied for the positions, saying the number of judges has grown only 20 percent since 1980, while the population grew 50 percent.

The price tag for 50 new judges is about $41 million a year, and the courts will share an additional $12 million for capital and other ongoing costs, according to an analysis presented to the Legislature. Each new judgeship costs $811,500, including salary for support staffers.

Officials said they believe additional judges will help reduce backlogs, pushing cases through the legal system more quickly.

As they await appointments, Tozzi and his staff are making space for additional judges by renovating the fourth floor of the Merrill Lynch building at 801 10th St. in downtown Modesto, where two judges will hear civil cases.

Court officials also have their eyes on space that will become vacant when U.S. Bankruptcy Court moves from 1130 12th St. to the second floor of a new office building at 832 12th St.

"If we didn't have the workload, we wouldn't have received the judgeships," Tozzi said.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.