DUBLIN, Calif. - Alameda County Superior Court's presiding judge Wednesday defended his much-criticized plan to hold all in-custody arraignments of inmates at the new courthouse in Dublin instead of having most of them in Oakland.
Judge Morris Jacobson admitted that the new system, which will begin in July, "is quite a bit less than perfect" but he said he believes it will be more efficient than the current system.
Jacobson said he must also look at ways of saving money because the county's courts are "in dire financial straits" because their funding has been cut from $125 million a decade ago to only $76 million in the current fiscal year.
Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods and others have blasted Jacobson's plan, alleging that it means that moving arraignments from Oakland to Dublin will result in more people being held in jail while they fight their cases.
Woods said his office, which represents most of the county's criminal defendants, has formed a coalition of local politicians, nonprofits, and activists to oppose Jacobson's plan.
Woods will hold an hour-long news conference on the issue at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland starting at 12:15 p.m. Thursday.
Woods said in a news release that the Dublin courthouse, which is officially known as the East County Hall of Justice, originally was to host only arraignments for cases in the southern part of Alameda County, including those currently at the Hayward and Pleasanton courthouses.
He said North County arraignments, including Oakland, Berkeley and Albany, currently are held at the Wiley Manuel Courthouse in Oakland.
Woods said the Dublin courthouse is about 30 miles away and is one mile from the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station.
Woods said, "Arraignment is a critical point in a criminal case because that's when criminal charges are announced and the court sets bail or chooses to release someone on their own recognizance. It must take place at a location that is readily accessible to defendants' families, who need to attend in person in order to provide essential information to the court, including community ties and employment."
He said, "If families are unable to travel the extra 30 miles to Dublin, more defendants will remain in custody for longer periods of time, particularly defendants with the lowest income and the least serious charges."
Jacobson said Woods shouldn't be surprised by his plan because county officials have been talking about doing arraignments in Dublin since 2000, he told Woods about his plan in the fall of 2014 and he's had numerous lunch meetings and town hall meetings with defense lawyers to tell them about his plans.
Jacobson said having arraignments at the Dublin courthouse will be more efficient than having them in Oakland because it's only a block away from the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, where most of the county's inmates are held.
He said the current system of busing inmates from Santa Rita to Oakland is expensive and time-consuming, as inmates are wakened at 4:30 a.m. or earlier, put on buses, brought to Oakland, sit in a courthouse holding facility most of the day, make a brief court appearance and then are brought back to Santa Rita late in the afternoon or early evening.
Jacobson said, "We lost time because of traffic issues" and the courts must pay overtime costs to its staff members when arraignments run behind schedule.
Jacobson also said when inmates are arraigned in Oakland their family members can't talk to them anyway so "it's not a visiting opportunity."
And Jacobson said families don't need to provide information about inmates' community ties and employment because it's already provided by the court's pretrial services unit.
Jacobson said he agrees that in an ideal world Oakland inmates would be arraigned in Oakland, but he said that's not currently possible because Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern has chosen to house most Oakland inmates at Santa Rita instead of at the Glenn Dyer Detention Facility in Oakland, which is adjacent to the Wiley Manuel Courthouse.
Jacobson said the reason the county chose to build that jail in Oakland is so that people who are arrested in Oakland could be arraigned in Oakland.
Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said it would be possible to house more inmates at the Oakland jail but the sheriff's office would need a $3 million increase in its budget to hire additional deputies and medical staff to handle more inmates there.
Kelly said most inmates currently get their medical needs taken care of at Santa Rita because there are more resources there.