Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger surprised many in Santa Barbara’s legal community by appointing court commissioner Colleen Sterne to fill the vacancy on the bench created two week ago when Judge William McLafferty died. What was surprising was not the appointment of Sterne — well-respected for her intelligence and work ethic — but that the governor made the appointment at all. In past vacancies on the Santa Barbara bench — in the case of former Judge Dianna Hall who was removed from office after being convicted for domestic assault and perjury — Schwarzenegger’s appointment office proved missing in action altogether. As a result, her vacancy was the focus of a countywide election, won last year by Judge Beebe.
Even with Sterne’s appointment, the Santa Barbara bench has two vacancies and will soon have a third when Deb Talmage steps down as commissioner. The strain is felt most acutely in North County where the criminal caseload is notably large, and the legal machinery is pushed almost to the breaking point.