(CN) – Funding for California’s trial courts continues to be the biggest issue facing the judiciary according to Judge Stuart Rice of Los Angeles, who was elected this week to lead the California Judges Association as its 86th president.
“The biggest issue is indeed our trial court budget. Now that the recession is over, we’re disappointed that there hasn’t been additional restoration in this year’s budget for us at some level so we can serve the needs of our citizens,” Rice said in an interview. He added trial court budget advocacy will likely be the focus of his term.
“Our election was in Sacramento and we were there specifically to attempt to meet with members of the Legislature to talk about budgetary items for the branch as a whole.”
Rice, 62, joined the Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2005, having previously served as a court commissioner for two years.
He graduated from Tufts University and earned his law degree from Northeastern. Before becoming a judge, he practiced law at Gottlieb, Gottlieb and Stein from 1978 to 1983, and was a senior partner at Rice and Rothenberg. Rice was also president of the Long Beach Bar Association in 2000.
Rice is also active in judicial education, and is a faculty member for his court’s educational program along with the California Judges Association and the Witkin Judicial College, which is sponsored by the Judicial Council.
He’s also currently vice president of the judges group’s executive board, a position he’s held for two years. Rice said this experience, alongside three stints on his court’s executive committee and involvement in the court’s operational planning committees have prepared him to take a higher role in California Judges Association leadership.
“I’ve always been involved in policy-making organizations. I’ve always taken an interest in issues that involve everyone in the legal profession,” Rice said. “I feel like I came to the board with a lot of experience and I’ve been involved in a lot of the issues of consequence to us. I’m looking forward to serving the interests of judges.”
Rice said this will mean pushing to alleviate the severe shortage of judgeships in California. About 189 new judges are needed to meet increased workloads in 31 courts, according to a judicial workload assessment by the Judicial Council last October.
“Many, many years ago before the recession, 50 additional judgeships were authorized by the state and never funded. We’re really going to be attempting to revisit the issue of additional judgeships,” Rice said. “It would be a great help to some of our counties that are just grossly understaffed.”
Rice said the association will also be advocating for legislation centered on getting civil cases moving through the courts more quickly. Last year, the group got legislation passed to require parties to meet and confer before filing a demurrer, a pleading that challenges a complaint filed by the opposing party. Demurrers are often filed by defendants in response to a lawsuit.
“This year we’ll be adding motions for judgements on the pleadings and motions to strike that would have the same meet-and-confer requirement,” Rice said. “The hope is there would be fewer of these types of early motions to dismiss.”
Rice’s one-year term starts on Oct. 8. He replaces outgoing president Judge Todd Bottke, presiding judge of Tehama County Superior Court.