Alameda County shifts many arraignments back to Oakland

Alameda County court officials announced Tuesday that starting next Monday, in-custody arraignments of inmates from the northern part of the county will again be held in Oakland instead of at the county’s new courthouse in Dublin.

Alameda County Court Executive Officer Chad Finke said in an email:

“I can confirm that the North County felony arraignments will indeed move back to the Wiley Manuel Courthouse (in Oakland) effective Sept. 25. … As a part of this compromise, the court, the District Attorney, the Public Defender, the Sheriff and the Probation Department all plan to jointly request that the Board of Supervisors take the necessary steps to allow the sheriff to house North County detainees at the Glenn Dyer Jail in Oakland, rather than housing them at Santa Rita.”

Under a plan developed by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson, in-custody arraignments of defendants from Oakland, Berkeley and other northern parts of the county, which had been held at the Wiley Manuel Courthouse, were moved to the new East County Hall of Justice in Dublin, which is across the street from the Santa Rita Jail, starting on July 17.

Jacobson, who was unavailable for comment today, said in June that having arraignments at the Dublin courthouse would be more efficient than having them in Oakland and the previous system of busing inmates from Santa Rita to Oakland was expensive and time-consuming.

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, who also was unavailable for comment today, said at a news conference in Oakland on June 29 that Jacobson’s plan to move arraignments to Dublin “is wrong, lacks compassion, is undemocratic and is a step backward.”

Woods said arraignments should take place at a location that is readily accessible to defendants’ families because they need to attend in person in order to provide essential information to the court, such as a defendant’s community ties and employment.

He said having arraignments at the Dublin courthouse, which is 30 miles from Oakland and isn’t near a BART station, would make it difficult and expensive for the families of Oakland defendants to make it to court and the result would be that more defendants would remain in custody for longer periods of time, particularly defendants with the lowest income and the least serious charges.

Woods formed a coalition to oppose Jacobson’s plan that was supported by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, eight members of the Oakland City Council, two state assembly members, Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan and 14 community and legal groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union.

Jacobson said in a letter to the Board of Supervisors in July that the controversy over where to hold the arraignments has existed isn’t new.

Jacobson wrote:

“For more than four decades, there has been an ongoing tension between the fact that a larger share of the criminal cases in our county originate in the north, while the primary jail facility (Santa Rita) is far away in the east.”