SLO County Superior Court prepares for new courthouse

February 7, 2023

Judge Craig B. van Rooyen and Administrator Michael Powell

By CCN Contributor Stew Jenkins

Presiding Superior Court Judge Craig B. van Rooyen announced at last month’s San Luis Obispo County Bar Association luncheon that the court is preparing to construct a new county courthouse.

A team of architects was touring six different candidate sites close to downtown San Luis Obispo to determine with the court where to build and what design would best serve the court and the public, according to court administrator Michael Powell.

After years of being constrained to hold hearings on Zoom, Judge van Rooyen catalogued the focus of the court to restore access and to allow the public to participate in and attend hearings and trials. A huge backlog of cases, he reported, are now being worked through by a court that has lost five judges in just over a year.

He pointed to three vacancies on the court that must be filled either by voters at the next election or by a governor’s appointment. Retired judges LaBarbara, Duffy, Umhofer and Lane are regularly sitting in to hold hearings and trials, along with visiting judges on special assignment, according to Judge van Rooyen.

In one of the more inspiring speeches that lawyers in the local Bar Association have heard a presiding judge give in some years, van Rooyen focused on integrity, public access, and requirements to use technology to improve public access to the courts; cautioning against technology becoming a barrier to the public’s access and participation.

Judge van Rooyen also focused on the efforts of judges, defense attorneys, the District Attorney, and social services to focus on rehabilitation calendars in six different courts every Friday. He outlined the success restoring humanity and productivity in drug, alcohol, mental health, and family reunification calendars achieved in those six different Friday court programs.

Court administrator Michael Powell announced that a new public portal would soon permit the public, as well as lawyers, to access pleadings and documents filed in civil cases. Criminal case dockets, but not pleadings, will also be available to the public at that electronic portal, he said.

Powell also introduced the court’s human resources director, indicating that because of a state-wide shortage of certified court reporters, there are three very well-paid positions available right now with the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court. Applications were encouraged.

The bar luncheon, held at the Madonna Inn, was the first large Bar Association gathering in several years. Newly installed Bar Association President Greg Gillette announced new initiatives to bring lawyers out not just to build public understanding for Law Day, locally scheduled for May 4, but to field triathlete teams to restore collegiality following years of pandemic enforced Zoom held court hearings and delayed trials.

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Wouldn’t it be nice to have a courthouse where there is plenty of land for parking and lower cost one story construction. The county has lots of land at camp SLO where it would be convenient for the Sheriff to deliver prisoners and court customers could park for free. But, watch the City of SLO exert pressure to keep it downtown just as they did in the early 80’s when the courthouse annex was built.

All sections of government continue to grow. Might as well build it really big and hire lots and lots of people and pay them tons of money, we can afford it, just need to tax the poor and middle class some more.

Trust, Mick Powell looks way better in person than that picture.

I agree with judge Rooyen. All court proceedings should be accessible by the public through electronic media.

This could reduce the later stated need for court recorders.

That’s a win-win in my book and provides for greater transparency and accountability for the courts.

I didn’t see any mention of this as a priority of the new Board of Supervisors.

Anything the new board can spend a pile of money on to put us even deeper in debt is on their priority list.

Counties are no longer responsible for the court system in California. Governance of the courthouses were transferred to the state in the early 2000’s and the California Judicial Branch is now one of the coequal branches of the State of California, just like the federal government.