Chief Justice Speech - August 11, 2005

AUGUST 11, 2005

Thank you and good afternoon. I want to thank Presiding Judge Michael Virga for inviting me to attend the dedication of this new juvenile court facility. I know that in addition to Judge Virga, several other judges from the Sacramento Superior Court were instrumental in making this project a reality. Among them are Richard Park, who, during his term as Presiding Judge, played a key role in reaching agreement with the county to provide a new courthouse for juvenile proceedings, as well as Judges Craig Manson and Michael Ullman. Kenneth Peterson, Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court also was integral to the process, and Court Executive Officer Jody Patel and the Superior Court's staff deserve great credit for the excellent assistance they have provided.

A conflicting commitment has kept Administrative Director of the Courts Bill Vickrey from being here today. He has sent his best wishes along with his Chief Deputy Ron Overholt, AOC Regional Director Mike Roddy, and the AOC's Director of Governmental Affairs Kate Howard as well as other AOC staff.

Building a courthouse requires far more than a decision by a court that a new facility is needed. The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and the County Executive Office were crucial to realizing this project. I understand that former Chair of the Board of Supervisors Illa Collin, as well as Supervisors Roger Dickinson, Don Notoli, and Roger Niello, deserve particular note. And from the County Executive's Office, Terry Schutten and Penelope Clarke have been singled out for their input and assistance.

There are, I am sure, many others who were critical to making this day happen. Everyone involved should take great pride in his or her contributions and in being part of a very successful and productive collaboration. Today's event demonstrates once again that cooperation among governmental and community agencies can achieve great things.

Courthouses play a unique role. They must reflect the dignity and importance of the work performed within their walls, and at the same time they must provide the space, house and protect the people, and accommodate the tools needed to accomplish that work. A ceremony dedicating a facility that itself is dedicated to the administration of justice provides an opportunity to pause and contemplate the administration of justice. It gives us a moment to consider what role we play in ensuring a fair and effective system of justice for all.

As Chief Justice of California, I chair the Judicial Council, the constitutionally created body charged with setting statewide policy for California's judicial branch. One of our primary areas of focus has been improving services to children and families who are brought before our courts.

The Judicial Council created the Center for Families, Children, and the Courts, as an important part of the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Council's staff arm, because of the Council's deep commitment to responding to the needs of these constituencies. Children, after all, are often the most vulnerable in our society — and they are the future of our state. Court proceedings can have a profound effect on juveniles, and can be the key to starting a young person on the path to a more productive and fulfilled life.

Why does it matter where court proceedings take place? The great British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, once said, "First we shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us." That observation is especially true with respect to this type of facility. This new facility replaces a building built in 1961. Some 44 years later, that structure unfortunately is far from able to meet today's needs and is incapable of providing a safe and adequate work environment. The old facility's 19,000 square feet hold too few courtrooms for current demands, and the building does not have adequate space for needed attorney-client interview rooms, staff offices, sufficient waiting areas, and internal holding cells.

In its place, we are here to celebrate a building close to five times the size of the former structure, and designed to meet modern conditions. It houses more courtrooms, so that courts can timely process juvenile delinquency cases. The new waiting areas and interview rooms better suit the circumstances of juveniles and their families. The new facility adjoins the Juvenile Hall Visitors Center. Now, once family members leave the court, they can walk next door to visit with their child. Parents and children can more quickly communicate about the proceedings and what lies ahead.

Security is an important issue in any court facility — indeed, these days in any public facility. The new building is designed to permit the safe and efficient transportation of in-custody juveniles, avoiding the possibility of disruption for the juveniles and providing security for the public. Holding cells adjacent to each courtroom make escorting juveniles to court proceedings far more secure and efficient.

More interview rooms have been provided, so that juveniles may more easily speak in confidence with their attorneys. Family members may hold conversations through a no-contact public interview room that can be reached from the public corridor. Thus juveniles, their families, and their counsel can consult in a confidential environment.

Confidentiality in proceedings is a fundamental premise of our juvenile law. Formerly, cases were called by announcing the name of the juvenile in the public waiting area. In the new courthouse, a system using pagers will be substituted so that juveniles and their families will not have to have a public notice. Attorneys, probation officers, and court staff will use a shared check-in calendar that will contain the pager numbers.

This use of technology is one feature of the modern courthouse — and the new facility has been designed so that it will be able to use other tools that technology offers in order to process juvenile justice cases. In the future, we can anticipate electronic transmission of documents, and case information will be viewed on line.

The improvements for everyone involved in the juvenile justice system are easily apparent. The road to creating this progress took cooperation and vision between the Sacramento Superior Court and county government. The Administrative Office of the Courts also provided assistance to help move this project forward. This facility is one of the latest examples of the continuing progress of the courts, in close partnership with the counties and other interested entities, in better serving the public.

During the past decade, California's courts increasingly have focused on reaching out to the community in order to ensure that the services we provide are responsive to the needs of those we serve. Our state's court system has undergone a fundamental transformation in the past decade, including a change in the source of funding for the trial courts from a mix of county and state resources to a comprehensive state funding scheme, and unification of the two levels of trial courts, municipal and superior, into a single superior court located in each of our 58 counties, replacing 220 trial courts statewide.

These measures were aimed at providing a more consistent and stable source of funding for courts across the state, and at enabling courts to more effectively use all available judicial and other resources to serve the public.

We are on the verge of the next major change — namely the assumption by the state of responsibility for court facilities. The Trial Court Facilities Act of 2002 will transfer ownership and management responsibility for California's 451 courthouses from the counties to the state. Once courts became funded by the state instead of the counties, it became logical for the state to ensure that the courts have the necessary facilities in which to conduct the public's business. The transition to state ownership will not, however, take place overnight. This building serves as a testament to the foresight and dedication of the local court and a county government that understood the need to meet today's demands, even as we look to the changes ahead.

Funds dedicated to the transition of courthouse ownership from the counties to the state already are being collected. This process is the culmination of a comprehensive study of the 451 facilities that have housed California's courts, and of the realization that the state must, in the future, step up to the plate and take responsibility for housing our statewide system of justice. As part of this shift, a planned bond measure will be placed on the ballot in the not-too-distant future to help ensure adequate funding to allow the state to assume this obligation properly.

In the interim, however, we must not let justice be compromised by inadequate facilities that prevent the courts from properly serving the public. The administration of justice is not an academic abstraction of interest solely to the courts or those hailed before them. The proper administration of justice benefits our entire society. It keeps the rule of law strong and protects the rights of us all.

Let me close, therefore, by once again thanking all those whose foresight, determination, and hard work led to the creation of this most impressive juvenile facility. Thank you for asking me to join you today. On behalf of California's entire court system, I congratulate the Sacramento Superior Court and Sacramento County on their commitment to a strong and vital judicial system, and the fair and effective administration of justice for all.

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