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SLO courthouse gets a new presiding judge 

San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera has been elected by his peers to be the courthouse’s new presiding judge, a title that comes with significant responsibilities during a time of unprecedented cuts in court services.

According to state law, courts with two or more judges are required to select a presiding judge, responsible for managing court administration, establishing court policies, assigning judges to specific courts, and allocating resources to best support access to the justice system for the public.

His term will officially begin on Jan. 1, 2012, and will last for two years.

“It’s an honor to do this, and I’m looking forward to it,” LaBarbera told New Times.

He said he expects the next few years to be “a bit daunting,” given that the court’s budget is more than $1 million in the red, with staff currently forced to accept at least one furlough day a month. But he added that under the work of his predecessor, Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall, certain steps were taken to reduce the local impact of state budget woes, such as a significant decrease in hiring.

“We are already realizing the savings,” LaBarbera said. “And operationally, I have not seen a horrendous impact.”

Even so, given the fiscal uncertainty ahead, LaBarbera said he plans to advocate for the court system to Gov. Jerry Brown.

“We’re not the DMV. You can’t cut every year and still address justice,” he said. “The court is a branch of government you have to fund.”

One of SLO County’s 12 current judges, LaBarbera holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Ohio State University and earned his juris doctorate from the University of San Diego in 1970.

He began his legal career in 1971 as a California State Bar staff attorney, and from 1972 to 1979 served as a deputy district attorney for Orange County before moving to SLO County, where he served again as a deputy DA before being elected as the head honcho at the District Attorney’s Office in 1986.

LaBarbera was appointed to the bench in 1998 by former California governor Pete Wilson, a Republican, and previously served one term as presiding judge from 2002 to 2003.

He will be supported by new Assistant Presiding Judge Dodie Harmon, who was appointed to the bench by former Democratic governor Gray Davis in 2002.

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