Union Tribune

September 26, 2002
 
Bill to add federal judges clears panel
Measure seeks new jurists for San Diego

By Joe Cantlupe
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON San Diego's beleaguered federal court yesterday moved a step closer to adding more judges to help handle one of the largest caseloads in the country.

A House and Senate conference committee approved a measure that would add five federal judges for the Southern California federal district. The action was part of an authorization bill for Justice Department programs. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., predicted that the bill would be approved soon in Congress.

The House is expected to consider the conference report today.
"I'm really ecstatic, this is very important for the public of San
Diego," said Marilyn Huff, the federal court's chief judge in San Diego.

"This is the closest we've gotten in the Congress to adding judges. I'm glad the House and Senate committee looked at the numbers, at our cases, and saw the merit."

Huff and Feinstein had lobbied unsuccessfully for three years for
Congress to add more judges to San Diego's federal court. "There is no court in America that is more deserving of these additional judges than San Diego," said Feinstein, who proposed the amendment to add the judges

. "This is the most overworked, understaffed court in the United
States. The local judges have gone so far as to publicly warn Congress that if new judgeships are not created, there is a substantial risk of calamity."

Huff said she was cautiously optimistic about final action in
Congress. But she acknowledged that the process is tedious and
uncertain. The House and Senate conferees have met since December to work out different versions of the legislation to authorize the judgeships and other programs for the Justice Department. During negotiations, lawmakers dropped proposals to add three temporary judgeships to the San Diego courts. "Actually, based on our sentencings here, we could use 10 judgeships, but this is a start," Huff said. "I'm certainly very hopeful."

Despite San Diego's average of 4,000 criminal cases each year, its
federal courts haven't been awarded any new judgeships since 1990. The eight permanent judges on San Diego's federal bench each handled about 1,000 civil and criminal cases last year, the highest volume in the country.

The Southern California district's caseload has been fueled by
increasing numbers of immigration and drug-related cases stemming from San Diego's proximity to the border. If Congress and President Bush approve adding new judges, Huff said she hopes that the first judge could start work in the courthouse in a year. 

Copyright 2002 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.