Monterey County Adapting To Justice Rationing

A story in the Monterey County Weekly documents adjustments to civil cases after years of budget cuts, including the hit to local small claims cases. Says the paper: “With the closure of the King City courthouse on Sept. 23, the calendars of the three other county courthouses – in Salinas, Marina and Monterey – are under pressure to pack in more cases.”
The report quotes Monterey County Superior Court Presiding Judge Marla Anderson: “With the same amount of filings, you have to do the same amount of work with fewer employees,” The Weekly says that labor expenses account for 79 percent of the county courts’ $21-million budget, which is now facing six years of cuts. Countywide, the Weekly adds, the court system has reduced its workforce by 52 positions since 2008.

Judge Says Court Closures May Bring Violence

Reduced access to civil courts will mean that people take the law into their own hands, including using violence in their disputes, according to a Los Angeles Superior Court judge. Phil Mautino, who is the supervising judge for the Los Padrinos Juvenile Court, told a Republican Lincoln Club group that personal injury cases are going to take five years to get to trial while for traffic court “there’s a line that circles around the building.”

“It means if you’re not going to court, you settle (the issue privately). It means violence. It’s like the old days of vengeance where if you kill my brother, I’ll kill your sister,” the judge told the Whittier Daily News in a recent report. “If you‘re willing to stand in line for a day or two, the officer may not show up [and] if you’re retired and plead not guilty, you have might have a good chance of getting off.” 

The Whittier courthouse was among the eight closed this year while two others have very limited services. All traffic court cases now are heard at the downtown Los Angeles and Beverly Hills court houses, small claims is limited to five courts (Downey for the Whittier area), and landlord-tenant evictions are divided between four courthouses.

See the story here.

Gov. Signs Law, Illegal Immigrants Can Become Lawyers

Surprising nobody, Gov. Brown has signed legislation that allows an illegal immigrant to become an attorney — if they have gained the proper academic credentials and passed the state bar. The law comes after a Chico man named Sergio Garcia, a law school graduate who has awaited a green card for almost 10 years, appealed his license denial all the way to the state supreme court.
The Obama administration had opposed the idea, arguing that federal immigration law blocks such professional licensing unless states pass a specific law allowing law licenses for illegal immigrants. Stumped, the state’s supreme court judges asked the legislature to adopt such a law and it did, leading to Brown’s signature this week.

Juvenile Court Issues Set For Dec. 4 ‘Summit’

Critics of how the Los Angeles Superior Court chose to close juvenile justice facilities may get a chance to air their concerns. The state court system is planning a Dec. 4 “statewide summit” hosted by Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

Called the Summit on Keeping Kids in School and Out of Court, it will bring experts to Anaheim to “… examine truancy and school discipline policies creating a ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ for California’s children and youth.”

The state website says the summit will be paid for, in part, by private companies but does not name the sponsors. Find out more here.

Sacramento County Superior Court faces ‘tremendous challenges’ according to newly elected Presiding Judge


Sacramento Superior Court Judge Robert C. Hight. (Photo credit: SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA, COUNTY OF SACRAMENTO, COURT BULLETIN)

The Sacramento Bee reports that Sacramento Superior Court Judge Robert C. Hight has been elected as the court’s presiding judge, replacing the outgoing Presiding Judge Laurie M. Earl. The two-year term begins on January 1, 2014.

“Our court faces tremendous challenges,” Hight said in a news release. “Over the past four years, the Legislature reduced funding for the Judicial Branch by $1 billion. For our Sacramento County Superior Court, this was a reduction of almost 25 percent, resulting in the loss of almost 200 staff positions. Unless next year has projected budget changes, we face further cuts. Our judges and dedicated staff have been asked to do more with less. Our challenge is to continue providing the citizens of Sacramento with access to justice that is fair, timely and open to all.” 

Backlogs Prompt Some Courts To Re-hire

We’ve not heard about any plans in Los Angeles County, the nation’s largest trial court, but some other California court systems are re-hiring laid-off workers to deal with backlogs caused by, well, laying off workers. In particular, courts are looking at backlogs in family law cases.
It is interesting that the workers have reportedly been re-hired ONLY to deal with the backlog, leading to all kinds of labor questions. The Capital Public Radio station talked to some presiding judges (note that report is different from the print version). Read and listen to the story here.   

Gov. Considering Major Court-Outsourcing Bill

The civil courts community is keeping focus on a bill that would regulate how the California courts outsource their functions. The bill, AB 556, passed both the assembly and state senate with comfortable margins but now awaits Gov. Brown’s signature to become law. 
The debate, noted in The Courthouse News, boils down to how administrators want to replace court workers with contract employees. Presiding Judge Laurie Earl of Sacramento said in an interview with CN, “In our opinion this bill is an overreach, not only into our discretion but into good business practices to reduce costs at a time when we have less funding.” But, the report notes, “… from the labor point of view, contracting simply transfers public funds into private hands.” 
“What you’re doing is exchanging wages and benefits for employees for a for-profit company,” said Michelle Castro with the union that represents many court workers. “The courts aren’t going to pay less money.” In its language, the CN notes, the bill conditions private contracts on a demonstration of savings.

You can read the report here

Jury Reform Ideas Beginning To Surface

With budget cutbacks and the threat of lawsuits over reduced justice access, you can guess that “court reform” is gathering steam as a key California issue. As part of that, you can add jury reform. Some ideas, and even proposed legislative action, are part of a Rosemary Jenkins column in CityWatch that very likely outlines the left-leaning view of future jury policy.

Jenkins, a regular CityWatch contributor who is also noted as chair of the Northeast Valley Green Coalition, spices up her policy observations with some first-person tales of jury duty. Her experience has the sound of truth, but it’s not exactly reassuring. She makes a case for non-citizens to serve on juries and calls for a new state law that will focus on “a jury of our peers” meaning more than just “those who did not evade jury duty.”

Of course, she is mostly dealing with criminal cases, not civil. But the jury pool overall is going to become an increasingly over-worked resource as more trials are held in centralized locations that require both seated and prospective jury members to travel longer distances. Read the ideas here.