The long-beleaguered and overworked U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California is about to receive some reinforcements.
Wednesday, President Donald Trump nominated Dirk Paloutzian, a Fresno attorney with Baker Manock & Jensen, to fill an open seat on the bench for the judicial district that spans Sacramento to Bakersfield.
Paloutzian currently specializes in business litigation, professional liability defense, probate litigation, and agribusiness law.
Prior to his 18-year stint with one of Fresno’s preeminent law firms, Paloutzian was a Deputy District Attorney with the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office working in its sexual assault and homicide units along with serving as its inaugural elder abuse prosecutor.
Paloutzian also served as an extern for California Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvin R. Baxter. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley and UC Davis’ King Hall School of Law.
His nomination arrives amid two vacancies on the court and months of vetting by the White House.
A Caseload Crisis
The court itself has become a hotbed of controversy over its caseload.
Currently, the court is comprised of six seats – the same number it held in 1978. Each of the six district judges are expected to handle about 900 cases at a time.
That figure is more than double the national average for Federal judges, who handle about 425 cases.
During the Obama administration, former Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) proposed The Central Valley Judicial Relief Act to double the size of the Eastern District of California bench. The bill failed to garner support from the state’s two Senators at the time, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.
Beyond its six active seats, the Eastern District has three judges who have taken Senior Status. Judges may take senior status, and vacate their current seat, when they are 65 years old and their age and years of experience in Federal courts are at or above 80 years.
The Eastern District currently has two vacancies, one created by Judge Morrison England, Jr. taking senior status and another by the retirement of former Chief Judge Lawrence O’Neill.
Prior to his retirement, O’Neill pleaded with the White House and California’s two senators, Feinstein and Kamala Harris, to end the logjam and begin the process of nominating and confirming judges onto the Eastern District bench.
In a statement, Rep. Devin Nunes (R–Tulare) celebrated an appointment to the overworked bench.
“The Eastern District of California is in critical need of new judges to ensure justice is served swiftly for Valley residents,” Nunes said. “Paloutzian’s nomination is a great first step in finally resolving the problem.”