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Southern District

United States District Court for the Southern District of California

The United States is divided into 94 federal districts, each presided over by a U.S. district court.

These courts serve as the trial courts of the federal judicial system, overseeing both civil and criminal cases at the federal level--including cases involving diverse citizenship, questions about Constitutional law, and other matters that come under their jurisdiction (e.g., patents, copyrights).

United States District Court for the Southern District of California

The United States District Court for the Southern District of California is one of four district courts in the state, along with the Eastern, Northern, and Central districts.

The Office of the United States Attorney was created by the Judiciary Act of 1789, which provided for the appointment in each district of “someone learned in the law to act as attorney for the United States.

Their duty is to prosecute in each district all delinquents for crimes and offenses under the federal laws of the United States and all civil actions.

The federal judiciary operates separately from the executive and legislative branches but works with them often. Federal laws are passed by members of Congress and signed by the President of the United States.

The judicial branch determines the constitutionality of federal laws. Judges rely on the government's executive branch to enforce court decisions. Federal courts determine what happened and whether any punishments should be imposed.

Simply put, the courts determine whether someone committed a federal offense and the penalties.  Depending on the type of alleged crime, some will be sent down to local state-level courts for prosecution. Let's review this topic further below.

About the Southern District of California

The Southern District of California was first established as a judicial district in 1850, along with the Northern District, just days after California achieved statehood.

After numerous restructurings over the years, today, the Southern District oversees a population of about three million people within the two southernmost counties in California adjacent to the border with Mexico, making it the smallest district geographically and population-wise in the state.

The district has 13 federal judgeship positions, with an auxiliary of 11 senior judges and 12 magistrates.

Federal District Court Locations

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California operates in three courthouse locations: San Diego and El Centro. The Court Clerk's office for the entire district is located in Suite 420 at the James M. Carter and Judith N. Keep United States Courthouse.

The locations for Southern District Court are as follows:

James M. Carter & Judith N. Keep United States Courthouse

333 West Broadway
San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: (619) 557-5600
Business Hours: 7:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday

Edward J. Schwartz United States Courthouse

221 West Broadway
San Diego, CA 92101
hone: (619) 557-5600
Business Hours: 7:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday

El Centro United States Courthouse

2003 W. Adams Ave, Ste 220
El Centro, CA 92243
Phone: (760) 339-4242
Business Hours: 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday

As noted, the Southern District of California currently has 13 district judgeships and 11 full-time Magistrate judges in San Diego. Another full-time magistrate judge sits in El Centro.

While the district courts deal with civil and criminal filings, the Southern District of California is mainly known for its criminal caseload.

Because it's close to the United States border with Mexico, it has one of the country's highest criminal caseloads per judge. The vast majority of the criminal cases filed in this district involve drug trafficking and illegal immigration.

Federal Judges for the Southern District

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California has 13 federal judge seats. These judges are nominated for lifetime appointments by the current President and are confirmed by the Senate. 

The current active federal judges in the Southern District are:

  • Dana Sabraw (Chief Judge)
  • Cynthia A. Bashant
  • Cathy Bencivengo
  • Gonzalo P. Curiel
  • Robert Huie
  • Linda Lopez
  • Ruth Bermudez Montenegro
  • Jin-sook Ohta
  • Todd Robinson
  • Dana Sabraw
  • Janis Sammartino

Senior Judges

Senior judges are federal retirees who, after reaching a certain age and completing at least 15 years of service, can continue to hear cases on a volunteer basis. The Southern District of California has 11 senior judges assisting with the caseload. Current senior judges are:

  • Michael Anello
  • Anthony J. Battaglia
  • Roger Benitez
  • Larry Burns
  • William Hayes
  • John Houston
  • Marilyn Huff
  • James Lorenz
  • Jeffrey Miller
  • Barry Moskowitz
  • Thomas Whelan

Magistrate Judges

Magistrate judges are lower-level judges who generally hear federal misdemeanor and petty criminal offense cases and may perform other duties assigned by the active judges.

Unlike federal judges, whom the President appoints for life, magistrates are elected by their constituents to eight-year renewable terms. There are currently 12 magistrate judges serving in California's Southern District Court. Current magistrate judges are:

  • Michael S. Berg
  • Ruben B. Brooks
  • Jill L. Burkhardt
  • Daniel E. Butcher
  • Karen S. Crawford
  • Mitchell D. Dembin
  • William V. GalloHon
  • Allison H. Goddard
  • David D Leshner
  • Barbara L. MajorHon
  • Lupe Rodriguez, Jr.
  • Andrew G. Schopler
  • Bernard G. Skomal
  • Nita L. Stormes

What is the Function of the Federal District Court?

Federal district courts are the primary trial courts of the United States judicial system.

They are responsible for hearing federal law cases, various controversies between parties, including criminal and civil matters, and appeals from state courts.

Federal Criminal Defense Attorney for the Southern District of California

Federal district court judges preside over trials and other court proceedings, manage discovery processes, and oversee pre-trial motions.

Civil cases generally include disputes between parties of diverse state citizenship, cases regarding intellectual property, and constitutional challenges.

Criminal cases involve violations of federal laws and statutes, including drug offenses, tax fraud, and terrorism, as well as crimes committed on federal property and interstate commerce.

Adverse decisions in the Southern District of California may be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Title 18 U.S. Code Chapter 211 lists the rules regarding jurisdiction and venue for federal criminal cases.

The Eisner Gorin LLP attorneys regularly defend California clients accused of federal crimes. Our Southern California District Court experience covers both misdemeanors and felonies, giving us the expertise to provide our clients with the best possible legal representation and advice. You can contact our law firm for an initial case review via phone or the contact form.

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