PROP. 220



U.S. Senate



Secretary of State



Attorney General

Insurance Commissioner

Superintendent of Public Instruction

Board of Equalization


Prop 219
Prop 220
Prop 221
Prop 222
Prop 223
Prop 224
Prop 225
Prop 226
Prop 227


Districts 1 - 26
Districts 27 - 52


Districts 2 - 40

Districts 1 - 20
Districts 21 - 40
Districts 41 - 60
Districts 61 - 80

Background | Proposal | Arguments For | Arguments Against

A constitutional amendment that would let judges of each county consolidate that county's municipal courts into a unified superior court.

As anyone who's ever faced the bar of justice, whether it be in civil litigation or a criminal case, California's county courts are divided into two different sections. Superior courts generally handle the big stuff: Felonies, family law, and civil suits involving more than $25,000. Each county has a superior court district, and there are a total of 805 superior court judgeships. Municipal courts generally handle misdemeanors, infractions - such as speeding tickets - and most civil lawsuits involving disputes of $25,000 or less. Counties are divided into municipal court districts based on population, and there are now 675 municipal court judgeships. Current law allows for consolidation of some staff and services, and municipal judges are allowed to hear the bigger cases, but by and large, the two have remained separate. As the crime rate rose, and with the enactment of the 1994 "Three Strikes You're Out" law, however, local courts - particularly in urban areas - found an imbalance. Superior court dockets were overstocked, and municipal judges found their dockets crowded with felony cases. In addition to requesting a state bailout of the costs associated with maintaining the courts, some localities also wanted the flexibility to consolidate the two court systems.

Proposition 220 permits superior and municipal courts within a county to consolidate their operations upon approval by a majority of superior court judges and a majority of municipal court judges in the county. Such consolidations would abolish municipal courts and create a unified superior court. In addition, the measure makes a number of other related and conforming changes to the Constitution regarding municipal courts, and to the minimum qualifications and election of judges in consolidated courts. The legislative analyst estimates that to the extent that most courts choose to consolidate, there would likely be annual net savings in the long term. In addition, a state buy out of local court financing, approved last year by the Legislature, includes some additional incentives for courts which unify.

Arguments for:
Supporters include its legislative author, state Senator Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward), as well as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers' Association, The Judicial Council, the California State Association of Counties, and the California State Sheriffs' Association. They argue the measure will increase the effectiveness of the state's Three Strikes Law. By unifying the courts, they argue, more judges will be available to handle the explosion of criminal cases now "clogging" the system. It will also, they contend, make enough room in judicial schedules to allow for the hearing of some long-delayed civil cases. Supporters also contend this plan will improve the courts and save taxpayers money by combining the functions of local courts and reducing the need for new judges.

Arguments against:
Opponents include the National Tax Limitation Committee and Mike Reynolds, the author of the Three Strikes and You're Out Law. They argue the measure has nothing to do with preserving the Three Strikes Law - they say it actually serves as a detriment to the enactment and implementation of Three Strikes. By unifying the trial courts, Proposition 220, they say, will eliminate an efficient system of justice for small, but important, civil and criminal cases, while elevating every municipal court judge to the superior court with a pay raise. Rather than elevating the status of municipal judges, they contend that the state Legislature should instead create new judicial districts to correspond with the state's expanding population.

--- Article by Tippy Young

This page first published May 5, 1998

Last updated May 25, 1998

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