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Municipal court ends Friday

Christina Proctor

Municipal court is on its deathbed and the final death knell sounds Friday.

Ever since California was accepted in the Union in 1859, El Dorado County has had a courts of limited jurisdiction. For more than 100 years, justice court was where minor criminals were tried and citizens took their small civil disputes. In 1988, the four justice courts in El Dorado County were merged into one county-wide “municipal court.” Still, only criminal misdemeanors and infractions were heard along with civil cases involving $25,000 or less. Municipal court judges could only hear superior court matters if the chief justice assigned them. Superior court judges could refuse to preside over municipal matters.

The passage of Proposition 220 changed all that. El Dorado County’s superior and municipal court judges voted unanimously to implement the proposition that passed by 64 percent of the vote on June 2.

Friday’s merger of the municipal and superior court marks the end of limited jurisdiction courts in the county. All legal matters after Aug. 1 will be filed and heard in superior court.

“Judges are now all equal and all have to handle the same workload,” said Judge Jerald Lasarow. “It makes it easier for judges to switch cases and hopefully makes the court calendar more efficient.”

Efficiency has been the buzzword for many court changes in the 1990s. The Trial Court Realignment and Efficiency Act of 1991 led many counties to begin coordinating their administrative and judicial resources to cut costs. Judges began sharing case loads through “cross-assignment” orders signed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court of California – a power granted to the chief justice by the California Constitution.

El Dorado County municipal court judges have handled superior court cases on and off for more than year.

One thing that won’t change is fundamental procedural distinctions between municipal court cases and superior court cases.

“The same rules will apply to lesser civil cases,” Lasarow said. “The rules that limit the amount will still be in place.”

All municipal judges, now sworn in as superior court judges, are also getting a pay raise of $9,320 a year to bring them up to $107,390 a year – the superior court salary.

Billie Parker, court operations supervisor, said the change will make it easier for people to know where they need to go.

“We’re really coming into an age of being as customer friendly as possible,” Parker said. “We might have even managed to simplify the system. We have worked very hard to reach this point.”

The staff will provide cookies to the public on Friday to mark the passing of municipal court. The municipal court staff will be sworn in as superior court staff on Friday as well.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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