Arizona Declares Judicial Emergency due to Shortage of Judges

Friday, January 28, 2011
Judge John Roll
Things had already reached a state of critical mass with the overloaded federal courts in Arizona when Jared Lee Loughner shot U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others, including John Roll, the state’s senior judge, who died. But the incident has really magnified the situation confronting the court system and Roll’s successor has declared a judicial emergency.
With a burgeoning caseload and too few federal judges, Roll himself had called for an emergency declaration on November 24, 2010. Judge Roslyn Silver has now picked up where Roll left off and made the declaration with the support of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing courts to delay criminal trials up to six months. Without such a declaration, a defendant must be brought to court within 30 days. Arizona is now missing three of its allotted twelve permanent judges.
Ironically, one of the defendants who may be affected by the crisis is Loughner. Even though his trial will be held in San Diego, his pretrial proceedings will still be conducted in Phoenix, and those could be postponed while judicial officials deal with the backlog of cases.
Arizona federal courts have seen their criminal caseload jump by 65% in the last two years. The state was already dealing with two judicial vacancies when Roll was killed in the January 8 attack in Tucson, further reducing the number of available judges.
Arizona is not the only state dealing with vacant federal judgeships, as partisan politics in Washington have delayed the confirmation of numerous appointees by President Barack Obama.
The last time a judicial emergency was declared was in 2000 in Southern California, but the last time a trial was actually delayed was in 1980, the year the Speedy Trial Act took effect.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Judicial Emergency Declared in Arizona (by Carol Williams, Los Angeles Times)
Judge Asks to Delay Felony Trials (by Brady McCombs and Howard Fischer, Arizona Daily Star)


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