California court filing: 10 Top facts from the 2015 Statistics Report

California court statistics

When the California Judicial Council published its annual statistics report last month, most headlines focused on the increase in the number of complex case filings. The report, which runs to some 180 pages, is a treasure chest of interesting court data, however.

The 2015 report covers court filings at every level of the state’s judicial system for the financial year that ended in June 2014. It also includes historical California court filing data going back over the last decade.

Don’t have time to work your way through the reports 80,000 or so words? Don’t worry! We’ve been through the report for you and pulled out the 10 most interesting and significant California court filing facts.

#1. California has the largest courts system in the world

The report makes the bold claim in its preface that, with almost 2,500 judges, California has the largest courts system in the world. While we can find very little independent verification of this claim, and we’ve got a feeling that a massive non-federal country like Japan might have a bigger judiciary, it remains a great fact!

#2. The courts system is made up of more than 500 separate buildings

You start to realize the scale of the California courts system when you consider that it comprises over 500 separate courthouses and offices. The Judicial Council is quick to point out that many of these are in a pretty poor state of repair and estimates, conservatively, that it would cost some $2 billion to bring them up to scratch.

#3. There were 7.5 million cases filed in 2014 – a decline of 35% since 2010

The 7.5 million (7,488,900, to be precise) cases filed in California courts in 2014 represents the lowest number in a decade and a huge decline of 35% on the number of cases filed in the peak year in the dataset: 2010.

#4. The biggest fall is in small claims – down 39% over the last decade

The largest decline in case filings in California has been in the small claims court – down from just over a quarter of a million filings in 2005 to just 155,000 in 2014. There’s little evidence of fewer renters skipping payment, fewer cars bashing into one another in car parks, or fewer people trying to avoid paying tradespeople. What’s going on then? A big push towards out of court settlements via mediation, basically.

#5. Just 10 of California’s Superior Courts handled 72% of the state’s entire workload

The volume of cases is highly concentrated in just 10 Superior Courts located, as you might expect, in the heavily populated areas around Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Alameda, Los Angeles, Kern, Orange County, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, San Diego, and San Francisco handled 5.4 million filings in 2014, while all other courts combined handled just over 2 million.

#6. LA Superior Court alone accounted for 29% of all filings in California

With a staggering 2.2 million filings in 2014, Los Angeles Superior Court was by far the busiest court in the state. Mind you, it has the staff to handle that number; with 475 judges and over 4,000 full-time staff, LA is far and away the biggest court in the Golden State.

#7. Sierra County handled just 0.08% of all the filings in California

In stark contrast to Los Angeles, rural and mountainous Sierra County (population 3,240) handled just 623 case filings in 2014, the fewest of any Superior Court in the state. Where as LA has an enormous judicial staff, Sierra County handles this caseload with just two judges.

#8. Some 81% of case filings relate to criminal cases; just 19% are civil

Four-fifths of all of the filings in California’s Superior Courts relate to a criminal case. The ratio of criminal to civil filings (roughly 80:20), hasn’t moved at all in the last decade.

#9. But 84% of all criminal case filings (69% of all filings) relate to traffic offenses

It turns out that, rather than there being an alarming crime wave taking place, the vast majority of these criminal cases relate to traffic infractions and misdemeanors. The number of traffic offenses has reduced, but by only half as much as other types of cases (by 17%, rather than 35%). The reason for the slower decline in cases? Some speculate it might be down to a proliferation in red light cameras catching out more motorists.

#10. Despite the fall in case volumes, the speed at which cases are dealt with by the courts has declined since 2005

Despite the substantial decline in filings, the speed at which the courts are dealing with cases has declined across all but one case type. Fewer cases were dealt with within the maximum acceptable period in 2014 than were in 2005. This is a symptom, many argue, of the long-running budget crisis facing California’s court system, and it’s showing no signs of ending anytime soon. 

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