Courts get a face-lift |

Courts get a face-lift

Michael Schneider

Proposition 220 is making official the judicial reform El Dorado County planned years ago.

“As of Aug. 1, Municipal Court is dead,” said Alexander Aikman, county court executive officer.

He said the courts planned the consolidation as far back as January 1995 and the judges of El Dorado County’s Superior and Municipal Courts recently voted to establish a new superior court as of Aug. 1.

Proposition 220, voter approved June 2, requires that courts consolidate cases to make the process flow more smoothly and save money.

Judge Thomas A. Smith, along with Judge Greg Haas and Judge Eddie T. Keller, assume the title of Superior Court Magistrate. They will join Judges Patrick Riley, Suzanne Kingsbury and Jerald Lasarow in presiding over the county’s highest courts.

Instead of three Superior Court and three Municipal Court judges, the county will have six Superior Court judges. Judge staffs also have been consolidated.

More serious cases, normally handled in Superior Court, will now be presided over in a courtroom handling a specific area of the law, such as criminal cases.

Judge Smith said the change was more a formality. He has been presiding over Superior Court cases for more than a year in anticipation of the move.

“Since May 4 on the Western Slope and April 20 in South Lake Tahoe, these judges have been hearing Superior Court cases every day,” Aikman said.

Changes discussed previously, and formalized by Proposition 220, at South Lake Tahoe include not classifying the courts as “superior” and “municipal,” but rather as the “criminal division,” “family law,” and the “civil division.”

Months ago, Judge Suzanne Kingsbury, who had been the sole Superior Court judge in South Lake Tahoe, moved primarily to civil law.

“The hardest part for us at the lake will be changing the labels we use to refer to ourselves,” Kingsbury said. “We’re in one building and the calendar changes have gone smoothly, but we’re used to referring to staff and the paperwork as ‘superior court’ and ‘muni court.'”

Aikman said, with the new single personnel system and single administrative structure, there will be one budget for both Superior Court and Municipal Court.

The result is similar to what the State Assembly had in mind with the passage of AB233. The bill, passed in October 1997, required courts to consolidate operations to receive some funding from the state.

Aikman said that while technically there is no link between Proposition 220 and AB233, the bill did provide a strong incentive for consolidation of court operations.

The judges will be sworn into their new positions in a ceremony to be announced later.

“The hard work is behind us,” Aikman said. “Now we just have to order some new stationery and business cards.”

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