Sen. Feinstein Discovers Need For Child Representation

The Los Angeles family court may be limping along and we may be closing facilities and programs important to juvenile justice, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein has at least discovered the need for representation for children being detained under civil (as opposed to criminal) immigration issues. In an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times, she says of the detained, “… it is also imperative that child advocates be provided for these children, both while they are in federal custody and upon release to family members or sponsors. The children need representation as their court cases advance, and no child should be forced to navigate the U.S. legal system alone.”
She also wrote that she applauds “… the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review for expanding juvenile dockets across the country to handle immigration cases for these children. Otherwise, these cases could easily get lost in current backlogs, forcing these children to live in the shadows indefinitely.” All this, of course, only after a flood of negative publicity over current practices of holding thousands of children without much of a plan on how to process them or return them home. 
Read the senator’s position here:

L.A. Presiding Judge: Expectations Not Met

There is more news from Presiding Judge David Wesley over the new state budget. The Metropolitan News-Enterprise is reporting on an email Judge Wesley sent to judicial officers saying that “… we are very disappointed in the level of support provided to the trial courts” and “… we had developed reasonable expectations, based upon our interactions with legislators, that we would find ourselves with additional resources with which to begin rebuilding our Court. Those expectations were not met.”
According to the MetNews, Judge Wesley explained that of the $223 million appropriated to the judicial branch, $40 million is for courthouse construction, $7 million for the appellate courts, $15 million for collaborative courts, $43 million for already-incurred expenses for employee benefit cost increases, and $30 million will go toward backfilling an expected revenue shortfall statewide.
“Only $86 million is scheduled for trial court operations—and even that amount will be reduced because the funding amounts for benefit cost increases and for revenue shortfalls are likely to be insufficient, with the gap made up out of funding for operation,” the judge explained.

‘One-Day’ Divorce Is National Trend

Of course it’s not really “one day,” but faster, do-it-yourself, lawyer-free divorces are becoming a national trend, according to the New York Times. A driving issue is cost, reports the NYT,  which reports that “… costs vary by location, but Randall M. Kessler, a family law specialist in Atlanta, said a typical divorce with no major disagreements over assets and custody issues might cost a few thousand dollars, while cases with significant disputes can easily cost $25,000 or more

 In California, says the report, roughly three-fourths of family law litigants lack lawyers, according to  Maureen F. Hallahan, supervising judge in the family law division at San Diego Superior Court. Typically, people file initial divorce paperwork on their own, but they don’t know what to do next, so their file languishes for months. Budget cuts in the state courts reduced available personnel and made the problem worse.

 Like most “one-day” programs, the term doesn’t mean a divorce is truly started and completed in a single day — residency and notification requirements have to be met first. You must, for example, already have filed a divorce petition and served your spouse with divorce papers to participate. But the program does allow you to wrap things up in a single day, or even a matter of hours, once you meet the initial criteria. “This is designed to help people get through the system,” said Judge Hallahan.

Read the story here: California Pioneers the Court-Aided One-Day Divorce

Presiding Judge: Justice Rationing To Continue

Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge David Wesley say the just-passed California budget will not require additional staff reductions, but will also not replace previous cutbacks. The judge is being quoted in published reports saying that “… the California courts have suffered five years of reductions in state funding, and many courts have reduced their workforces by as much as one-quarter, with no lessening of their statutory and constitutional obligations. We are being forced to ration access to justice.
He added that “… people trying to do the right thing and pay a traffic ticket, find themselves stymied by long lines and antiquated technology… crime victims, and the law enforcement officers acting as witnesses in their cases, are burdened with long travel times because the local courthouse was closed.”

California Chief Justice: Budget Doesn’t Even ‘Tread Water’

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who has said that justice system budget cuts have created a new civil rights issue by limiting court access, is taking a softer tone in the wake of this year’s state budget, judging by published reports. For example, over the weekend the L.A. Times reported she “…  said Friday the new state budget will mean “more disappointment, service reduction and delay for those who need our courts.”
But she also thanked the governor and lawmakers for their efforts. The Times noted that the budget “… contains less than half the money Cantil-Sakauye said would be needed for trial courts “just to tread water” after years of courthouse closures, layoffs and other cutbacks… court employees are still being furloughed, and services to the public have been slashed. Court users have reported waits of as many as eight hours at clerk windows, and closures have forced some residents to drive several hours to get to the nearest open courthouse.”
The chief justice also said, according to the Times, that “.. she was grateful that Brown and the Legislature had added funds for specific court programs and were helping to solve the long term effect of employee benefit costs.” Read the story here: New California budget fails to ease court woes, chief justice says

Eight New Judges For L.A. Superior

Sixteen new judges were appointed this week to California superior courts, eight of them in Los Angeles. The Courthouse News reports that the L.A. Superior Court judges are Richard J. Burdge Jr., Rupert A. Byrdsong, David J. Cowan, Brian S. Currey, Sherilyn P. Garnett, Christopher K. Lui, Enrique Monguia and Gustavo N. Sztraicher. Find out more about the judges and their immediate background here.

Critics Target State Budget Process

Critics of the state budget process are starting to note last-minute deals that left lawmakers lacking information while negotiations went on in secret. Report the Los Angeles Times, “… in the final days of negotiations this year, lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown added $5 million to help Los Angeles host the Special Olympics next year and $3 million for research into the emerging field of precision medicine. But it’s not just relatively minor spending items that are included at the last minute; there are also complex policy proposals [for example] the administration introduced a plan to limit the amount of money school districts can keep in their reserves, just hours before it was vetted by the joint budget committee Wednesday.”
Meanwhile, commentary on what the new budget means for the court system remains scarce. But read the LAT report here: Closed-door, last-minute state budget decisions raise concerns

Budget Losers Now Learning The Score

Court system leadership may be fairly silent about this election-year budget deal, but the people actually dealing with ongoing shortfalls are starting to figure out that they were left out. Take child welfare courts, for example, where officials had expected modest increases, as noted in the Chronicle of Social Change website: “The California State Assembly and Senate had both signed off on a modest pot of money earmarked to help children’s legal representatives reduce caseloads that have grown to more than 400 children per lawyer in some counties… the state would have doled out $11 million in funding over the next year to help lower caseloads in child-welfare courts, followed by $22 million in the second year and $33 million in the third year. However, that money vanished in the final version of the budget that was sent to the Gov. Jerry Brown (D) for approval on Sunday [June 15].
You can hear discontent rising, but we are told many individual operations are being told to hold their fire because they might be among those lucky few getting some of the modest increases. But as those promises fade, it will be interesting to see what happens. Read some reaction here: California Rejects Bid to Restore Funding for Child Welfare Courts

Courts Budget Too Little, Too Wait

Those long wait times and delayed justice are not likely to go away anytime soon, given this year’s state budget focus on Gov. Brown’s bullet train project and increased education funding, say the early reviews of the just-passed spending plan. Says The Courthouse News: “… [the] $156 billion budget California lawmakers passed Sunday gave a $40 million boost to courthouse construction, but fell far short of the $266 million the judiciary hoped to raise for the trial courts this year… Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye unveiled in January a “budget blueprint” for the courts that set a $1.2 billion funding goal over the next three years, with $266 million more needed this year just to stay afloat.
Also from TCN: “We are nowhere near adequate funding of the [justice] system and nowhere even their own treading water mark, and that’s unfortunate,” Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, said on Sunday. “This budget simply does not focus on the priorities that Californians have set.”
What’s less clear is what political price, if any, lawmakers will pay for putting the courts on the budget back-burner.
See the story here: Courthouse News Service

Train, Not Courts, Wins In State Budget

So, maybe people can find a way to take the bullet train to far-flung courts? The California budget approved this week grants hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, but the courts have fallen well short of their requests. The Los Angeles Times report included this: “The new trial court budget is simply insufficient for those who need access to a courthouse,” Contra Costa County Presiding Superior Court Judge Barry Goode said. “Crime victims, law enforcement, those suffering from domestic violence, families in trouble and other court users will continue to have to travel long distances and endure long waits for justice.”