BAKERSFIELD, CA - Get ready for more delays at the courthouse. Felony court officials say the caseload has increased by 25 percent in the last year, which will most likely slow down lower priority cases like divorce and child custody.
Court administrators say it's because prison realignment increased crime, bringing in more cases. With 15 felony judges, Superior Court is handling the increase, but anymore and they say they'll hit a breaking point.
"We're at a stretching point now where something has got to give," said Terry McNally, Chief Executive Officer for Kern County Superior Court.
Kern County's felony court is seeing more cases then ever. According to court officials, felony filings are up 25 percent since last year. That equates to about 2,000 more cases a year. This also means more inmates are coming in and out of the courthouse.
"We've seen a gradual increase," said Lt. Bobby Voth who's in charge of the Court Services section for the Kern County Sheriff's Department.
The Sheriff's Department estimates the court is seeing 800 more inmates a month, requiring two additional bus trips to Lerdo Jail facilities a day along with more deputies.
"We have to have a set number of bailiffs and guards in the courtrooms themselves to maintain security. So, for every roughly ten inmates you have, you have to add another body," said Lt. Voth.
Lt. Voth said right now that's three to four additional deputies and many other deputies working overtime.
"It puts a huge strain on our staffing," said Lt. Voth.
McNally said Kern County courts would like to hire more judicial officers for the felony courthouse, but there's a lack of money and room.
Since the court has a constitutional obligation to quickly process felonies, if more help is needed, staff would have to come from family or civil courts, causing delays on cases of child custody, divorce, and other non-mandatory matters.
"In many cases, the courts are the people's last resort, and if that last resort takes months and months and months to get heard then it's going to have to adversely impact their ability to get on with their lives," said McNally.
The problem is only expected to get worse come July 1st. That's when parole hearings will move from the jail to the courthouse, bringing in an estimated 250 more inmates a month.