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History of Stanislaus County Superior Court

Stanislaus Court History

In 1854, Stanislaus County was organized with a population of under 1,000. In a period of 17 years, the county government moved from place to place as voters vied for the seat in their area. The first election was between Adamsville, named for one of the first medical practitioners on the plains, and Empire City, with developers promising they would post a $10,000 bond to build a courthouse if their town was favored.

In the June 10, 1854 ballot, Adamsville, a small settlement a few miles from the mouth of the Tuolumne River, won the first county seat. It consisted of a wooden platform under the shade of a large oak tree. Later, in the course of one 10-to-6 working day, the county officers took off their coats and worked together to enclose it with upright boards to hold a roof.

In November 1854, the county seat was moved upstream to Empire City, the center of steamship navigation of the Tuolumne. The courthouse consisted of a small frame building, and the developers never built the layout they promised.

In December of 1855, the vote favored the mining town of La Grange, which was 25 miles further up the Tuolumne and brought in people and prosperity. The supervisors bought for $1,700, a wood-frame 2-story building.

In 1860 the county obtained 110,000 acres north of the Stanislaus River, which included the town of Knights Ferry, the center of trade for the miners and a mining and agricultural center. In 1861 the closest vote of all county seat contests was between Knights Ferry, 422 votes, and La Grange, 393 votes. For 11 years Knights Ferry held court in a comfortable two-story brick building valued at $8,000.

In 1870 the new town of Modesto, first named Ralston, was founded. The construction of the Central Pacific Railroad line north and south through the heart of the county led to the decline of the river towns and made Modesto the most populated town. The citizens petitioned the legislature to have an election calling for a change in the county seat. An election was held in 1871, and Modesto became the fifth and final county seat, only 4 miles from it’s first home in Adamsville in 1854.

The Board of Supervisors rented the upper story of the Easton Building for $83 per month, and one room was used as a court. It is said that on the first floor was the Easton saloon where “the judge and jury could get refreshments.”

From 1872–73 a 3-story courthouse was erected at a cost of $60,000 on a block donated by the railroad company. The original “Classic Revival” courthouse was designed by architect A. A. Bennet of San Francisco and erected by Robinson Bros., a Stockton contracting firm. The building was located where our current clerks’ offices are currently located, and the ground entrance faced “H” street. The building was an example of all of the architectural beauty that modern art could apply, and the grounds in front were tastefully laid out as a public park with many beautiful shade trees.

A “Goddess of Justice” statue was placed atop the roof, with a sword in one hand and the scales of justice hanging from the other. The February 27, 1874 issue of Stanislaus Weekly News tells how she lost her scales of justice 6 months after she had been placed atop the building.

“The finely executed figure surmounting the splendid new courthouse and which was intended to represent the Goddess of Justice balancing a pair of scales, during a windy gale of the past week, loosened her grip on the balances and they came to the earth with a crash…it is to be hoped this unfortunate occurrence is not significant of any event fraught with direful forebodings.”

In 1939 the Stanislaus County “Hall of Records” was built at a cost of $200,000 and took 60 days to complete. The building became occupied by 10 county departments and is the portion of the current structure that faces “I” Street.

In 1957 the original courthouse was demolished to make way for a new structure, and the Goddess of Justice that had resided atop the building for 84 years was taken down. Her scales of justice had never been replaced and her sword had been patched with a piece of baling wire. The county ordered it saved for posterity as a historical landmark, and she was taken to a warehouse until it was decided what to do with her.

On April 23, 1960, the new $1,500,000 courthouse structure was dedicated and, as one author stated, is the “large undistinguished box” that currently occupies 800 – 11th Street. The Goddess of Justice, who formerly ruled atop the old court building, was set upon a pedestal and placed in the patio area. She was reinforced to correct the warp in the 3 redwood planks that are doweled together to make her body, but still had her scales missing, 2 fingers broken off and part of the cord around her waist was missing.

In 1976 the Goddess of Justice was refurbished by Estanislao Chapter No. 58 E Clampus Vitus 58, and placed in the lobby area of the courthouse. She was finally returned to her proper stature with her scales of justice in hand.

Accomplishments, Awards, and Program Development

From history to the present, the Superior Court reveals an outstanding list of accomplishments, awards, and program development. What follows is a partial list:

  • In 1989, the Superior Court successfully completed the consolidation of the County Clerk legal process staff with Court staff under the direction of the Superior Court Executive Officer.
  • Since 1990, the court has received five Ralph N. Kleps Awards from the California Judicial Council for excellence and one Special Recognition Award from the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court.
  • One of the Kleps Awards Stanislaus County received with Merced and Madera counties for project collaboration created a new award category called "Cross-County Cooperation".
  • In 1993 and 1994, a Court Administrator served on the California Judicial Council as an advisory member, and in 1993 served as the President of the California Association of Superior Court Administrators.
  • In 1993 and 1994 Judge Beauchesne and a Court Administrator served on the State Trial Courts Budget Committee.
  • In 1995, the Courts' began its efforts with Stanislaus County Management Information Services to develop a unified, functionally comprehensive and integrated software and database system.
  • To date, Stanislaus County Superior Court is the only mid to large size court with a software system (CARDS) that encompasses all Superior Court functions.
  • In 1995 and 1996, the Superior Court judges and staff were instrumental in the creation of the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, Adult Drug Court and Juvenile Drug Court.
  • In 1996, the Superior and Municipal Courts consolidated all of the clerical series and Interpreter classifications as part of the Courts' ongoing coordination efforts.
  • In 1996–97 the clerical functions of the Municipal and Superior Courts were consolidated as well as all clerical and staff job classifications to implement the consolidated functions of the Courts.
  • Stanislaus County Superior Court was the first court in the State to put "Tentative Rulings" from the Superior Court Law and Motion Departments on the Internet.
  • In 1997 the Family Law Facilitator's office was created via a State grant to assist Pro Per litigants to better understand the Family Law process of the court.
  • In 1997–98 the Court re-wired the entire courthouse to provide up-to-date CAT5E (Ethernet) connectivity moving from the old token ring environment.
  • In 2001, the Superior Court established its own Personnel Division seperate from the county and was the first mid size court statewide to contract with an independant payroll vendor.
  • In 2003, the Superior Court was the first pilot court selected statewide to participate in the Administrative Office of the Courts Financial System. This financial system called CARS is now being used in the majority of the California Courts.
  • Also in 2003, the Superior Court went live on their TEAMS case management system. The Court moved off the County mainframe onto their own WEB servers keeping the integrity of all case type information.
  • In 2004, the Superior Court was one of the first courts in the state to install a state-of-the-art security system that uses proximity key card access and digital monitoring in the public areas.
  • 2005 brought a new SPAM handling system into the court, a Red Flex project where cameras were installed throughout Modesto, automatically capturing red light offenders with data transferred directly into the case management system. The Superior Court also installed its first wireless LAN in the Jury Assembly area available for jurors awaiting trial.
  • In 2006, we expanded into the area of the Hall of Records previously occupied by the District Attorney's Office, where we continue to increase our services. We built a new courtroom on the second floor of the courthouse (Department 22) and began a VMWare project where we can set up virtual servers for redundancy and outages. Two new pieces of equipment were also purchased: one for use in training staff, a mobile training cart housing 20 wireless laptops, and a presentation cart for use in the courtrooms which houses a DVD/VCR player, projectors, printer, and computer all of which can be controlled at the podium or judicial bench via remote.
  • In 2007, the Superior Court was the first court in the state using an RFID (radio frequency identification device) system for file retrieval and tracking.
  • In 2007, one of the Court's Administrators was elected to serve on the National Association for Court Management Board of Directors. This is an organization consisting of a membership of approximately 2,500 members nationwide.
  • Biometrics was introduced in 2007 allowing users a fingerprint scanner to sign on to their computers rather than having to remember the numerous passwords required for individual applications.
  • In 2011, the Court is honored with a KLEPS Award for TAP (Transcript Assembly Program) which enables staff to compile, prepare and electronically transmit the Clerk's Transcript on Appeal for Civil Cases, to the 5th District Court of Appeal saving hundreds of hours of staff time, and related costs for paper, photocopying, shipping and storage.

Upcoming Projects

The Near Future Programs and projects we are currently working on include but are not limited to:

  • The creation of a Dependency Drug Court.
  • The creation of a Juvenile Justice Forum.
  • Allowing public access to court records on the court's database.
  • Implementing a document imaging program so the public can view and print document images from case files without coming to the courthouse.
  • Through the Courts and Their Community Committee and with the help of CableOne, create a Superior Court TV series of programs which will explain court processes, programs, etc. and a Speaker's Bureau.
  • E-filing in the Courts
  • VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) replacing the Courts antiquated analog phone system

Your Superior Court judges and administrators are and have been active participants in the community and at the State and National level. Your Superior Court has been recognized statewide for innovations in the administration of justice.

The Superior Court plans to continue a record of excellence in administration of justice, and pledge to you an ongoing effort to continually improve our services to you.

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