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Bates Still Hopes to Block Traffic Court Move

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday December 12, 2006

Presiding Superior Court Judge George C. Hernandez, Jr. paints a rosy picture of the planned move of Berkeley’s traffic court to the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse on Washington Street in downtown Oakland. 

It will be an opportunity for the two traffic judges, one now located in Oakland and the other in Berkeley, to share their workload more equitably:  

“They can back each other up,” Hernandez told the Daily Planet on Friday. Moreover, consolidation of services in Oakland will provide more interpreters, a self-help center and even childcare.  

Hernandez said the move will take place Dec. 26, but court workers say they have been told to be ready for a Dec. 22 move.  

“Our last day here is Dec. 21. Everything is moving to Oakland on the 22nd,” said Francisco Martinez, a legal processing assistant at the Berkeley Courthouse. “They’re advancing the date,” he told the Daily Planet on Monday, adding that supervisors “are not willing to answer questions” about the move. 

Mayor Tom Bates, who also had been told that the move was Dec. 26, isn’t buying Hernandez’s pretty picture. Bates learned about the move two days after the story first appeared in the Nov. 28 edition of the Daily Planet. 

“It’s inconvenient for people—especially low-income people—to take time off to go to Oakland to appear in court,” Bates said. 

And what’s even more serious, “It will take police out of service in Berkeley—there will be less police attention to real problems in the community,” Bates said. 

“It will cost the community a lot,” said Berkeley police spokesperson Ed Galvan. The cost will be in overtime, but more important, he said, the cost to the community is in the officers being out of town. There can be six to 10 officers waiting for their cases to come up in traffic court, but if there’s an emergency, the officers can easily leave the Berkeley court and respond, Galvin said.  

The mayor said he is also angry that no public officials were consulted—neither himself, nor the mayor of Albany nor Supervisor Keith Carson who serves Northern Alameda County. “That kind of arrogance infuriates me,” Bates said, vowing to go to the state legislature, if necessary, to find a remedy. 

But Hernandez said there would have been too many jurisdictions to meet with. Not only are Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville and Oakland impacted, but other agencies such as the Highway Patrol and BART police would be involved.  

“The court is not being cavalier about this,” he said. 

What is more surprising, Bates continued, is that the city is in the middle of negotiating a lease with the county—the Berkeley courthouse building, between Old City Hall and the police department, belongs to the county, while the city owns the land beneath it. 

Hernandez underscored that only the traffic court would be moving. Small claims and unlawful detainer courts will stay in Berkeley and other civil courts could move into the Berkeley building. 

The judge further argued that the Berkeley courts actually serve more out-of-towners: of the 29,000 tickets issued in Berkeley, 19,000 are given to persons who live outside the city, he said. Moreover, he added, “It’s only 5.3 miles from Berkeley to the Wiley Manuel Courthouse.”  

Bates is meeting today (Tuesday) with Hernandez, Carson and Albany Mayor Allan Maris to try to stop the move.