Chief Justice Speech - September 16, 2000

STATE OF THE JUDICIARY
CHIEF JUSTICE RONALD M. GEORGE
STATE BAR CONVENTION
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
SEPTEMBER 16, 2000


GOOD MORNING. I WANT TO THANK THE STATE BAR AND THE CONFERENCE OF DELEGATES FOR INVITING ME TO SPEAK TO YOU TODAY. IT HAS BEEN A PLEASURE WORKING WITH ANDY GUILFORD AND THE BAR’S BOARD OF GOVERNORS DURING THE PAST YEAR. THEIR STRONG LEADERSHIP HAS HELPED THE STATE BAR TO RETURN TO FULL FORCE AND TO REDEFINE ITS ROLE IN SERVING THE ATTORNEYS OF CALIFORNIA AND THE PEOPLE THEY REPRESENT. WITH A STRONG EXECUTIVE TEAM HEADED BY JUDY JOHNSON, THE REBUILDING OF THE STATE BAR PROMISES AN EXCITING AND EFFECTIVE FUTURE.

CONGRATULATIONS TO YOUR NEW PRESIDENT, PALMER MADDEN, AND TO THE INCOMING MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF GOVERNORS. THE TASK OF SETTING A NEW COURSE FOR THE BAR IS NOT YET COMPLETE, AND I KNOW THAT WORKING CLOSELY WITH YOUR EXCELLENT STAFF, YOU WILL MAKE REMARKABLE STRIDES IN THE YEAR AHEAD. I LOOK FORWARD TO WORKING WITH YOU.

I WANT TO ADD MY PERSONAL CONGRATULATIONS TO YOUR HONOREES THIS MORNING - JUDGE DOROTHY NELSON AND JUSTICE ELWOOD LUI - MY RELATIONSHIP WITH EACH OF THEM GOES BACK ABOUT ALMOST 30 YEARS, AND I CANNOT IMAGINE ANY TWO INDIVIDUALS MORE DESERVING OF THE RECOGNITION THEY RECEIVED TODAY.

ONE WEEK AGO, SEPTEMBER 9, MARKED THE 150TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE DATE THAT CALIFORNIA BECAME A STATE. LAST FEBRUARY, TO CELEBRATE ITS SESQUICENTENNIAL, THE SUPREME COURT MET IN SPECIAL SESSION AT THE HISTORIC COURTROOM THAT IT OCCUPIED IN SACRAMENTO DURING ITS EARLY YEARS. THE COURT STARTED TO OPERATE MORE THAT HALF A YEAR BEFORE CALIFORNIA ENTERED THE UNION.

I LIKE TO THINK THAT EVER SINCE THEN, OUR JUDICIAL SYSTEM HAS TRIED, ALBEIT NOT ALWAYS SUCCESSFULLY, TO STAY A BIT AHEAD OF THE CURVE. I AM, HOWEVER, ALSO AWARE THAT AS EARLY AS 1906, ROSCOE POUND, IN HIS IMPORTANT SPEECH, "SOURCES OF DISSATISFACTION WITH THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE," SOUNDED A THEME THAT RESONATES TODAY: HE DESCRIBED THE JUSTICE SYSTEM AS "SIMPLY BEHIND THE TIMES." ALMOST ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER, I WOULD HOPE THAT HE WOULD BE HEARTENED BY SOME OF THE CREATIVE WAYS IN WHICH COURTS HAVE BEEN WORKING TO MAKE HIS STATEMENT OBSOLETE.

A RECENTLY REDISCOVERED ENTRY IN THE COURT’S DOCKETS REFLECTS THAT THE SUPREME COURT STARTED BUSINESS IN 1850 WITH THE PURCHASE OF SOME QUILL PENS, INK STANDS, PAPER, AND A LARGE QUANTITY OF RED TAPE - LITERALLY - AT THE COURT’S NEWLY RENTED SAN FRANCISCO CHAMBERS. THIS YEAR 2000, OUR COURT INSTALLED A NEW COMPUTERIZED CASE-MANAGEMENT SYSTEM TO TRACK SOME 9,000 FILINGS, AND ISSUED OPINIONS IN 110 CASES, THE LARGEST NUMBER IN SEVERAL YEARS.

THE TRANSITION FROM QUILL PEN TO COMPUTER KEYBOARD HAS NOT MEANT THAT WE HAVE LEFT ALL THE RED TAPE BEHIND - ALTHOUGH IT MAINLY APPEARS IN METAPHORICAL FORM THESE DAYS. NOR HAS THE TRANSITION TO A MODERN SYSTEM BEEN A STEADY PROGRESSION. JUST A DECADE AGO, COURTS FOUND IT VERY DIFFICULT SIMPLY TO KEEP PACE WITH DEMAND. WHEN I BECAME CHIEF JUSTICE IN 1996, YEARS OF RECESSION AND BUDGET CUTS AND UNENDING CASELOAD GROWTH HAD LEFT COURTS STRUGGLING TO KEEP THEIR DOORS OPEN AND TO PROVIDE BASIC SERVICES. COURTS BECAME ACUTELY AWARE OF THE NEED TO MAKE RESPONSIVE CHANGES - BUT THE RESOURCES FOR THAT PURPOSE LARGELY WERE OUT OF REACH.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A NEW MILLENNIUM MAKES! WE HAVE NOW COMPLETED "YEAR THREE" OF STATEWIDE FUNDING OF THE TRIAL COURTS. FUNDING HAS INCREASED STEADILY SINCE THE STATE ASSUMED RESPONSIBILITY FOR FUNDING THE TRIAL COURTS IN 1997. THE JUDICIAL BRANCH’S BUDGET FOR 1999-2000 CONTAINED A 9% INCREASE OVER THE STATEWIDE BASE BUDGET FOR THE COURTS, AND IN FISCAL YEAR 2000-2001, WE RECEIVED AN ADDITIONAL INCREASE OF 12% - FOR A TOTAL BUDGET OF APPROXIMATELY 2 1/3 BILLION DOLLARS.

THE TRIAL COURT MODERNIZATION FUND, PROVIDING RESOURCES FOR SPECIFIC NEEDS - PARTICULARLY IN TECHNOLOGY - RECEIVED A $35 MILLION APPROPRIATION. THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL, THE CONSTITUTIONAL ENTITY CHARGED WITH SETTING POLICY FOR THE STATEWIDE COURT SYSTEM, HAS MET THE CHALLENGE OF THE NEW FISCAL STRUCTURE BY DEVELOPING A BUDGET PROCESS TO PROVIDE A COHERENT FINANCIAL MODEL FOR THE TRIAL COURTS TO FOLLOW.

THIS NEW SYSTEM INCREASES ACCOUNTABILITY, ENHANCES PREDICTABILITY, AND CREATES A LINK TO STRATEGIC PLANNING, ENABLING THE EFFECTIVE ALLOCATION OF RESOURCES IN AREAS SUCH AS TECHNOLOGY, SECURITY, EDUCATION, TRAINING, AND FACILITIES. IN ALL ITS EFFORTS, THE COUNCIL HAS BEEN INDISPENSABLY ASSISTED BY ITS STAFF ARM, THE ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS, LED BY ITS TIRELESS DIRECTOR, BILL VICKREY.

THIS PAST YEAR, THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL CERTIFIED UNIFICATION OF THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY TRIAL COURTS. LOS ANGELES WAS FOLLOWED BY KERN COUNTY, THE LAST OF THE 56 COUNTIES ELIGIBLE FOR UNIFICATION. THE REMAINING TWO COUNTIES - MONTEREY AND KINGS - HAVE APPLIED FOR PRE-CLEARANCE FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, AS REQUIRED BY THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT. IN A REMARKABLY SHORT TIME, OUR TWO-TIER TRIAL COURT SYSTEM HAS BECOME ONE-TIER, AND THE ECONOMIES, FLEXIBILITY, AND OPPORTUNITIES THAT THE NEW STRUCTURE HAS CREATED ARE EXCEEDING OUR EXPECTATIONS.

LET ME GIVE YOU A FEW EXAMPLES. IN LOS ANGELES, AFTER LESS THAN FIVE MONTHS OF UNIFICATION, PRESIDING JUDGE VICTOR CHAVEZ REPORTED $1.2 MILLION IN RESULTING SAVINGS, AND MAJOR IMPROVEMENTS IN CASE MANAGEMENT. JUDGES FROM SMALLER COURTS, LIKE THOSE IN IMPERIAL AND DEL NORTE COUNTIES, REPORTED HIGH LEVELS OF COOPERATION LEADING TO SMOOTH TRANSITIONS ADAPTED TO LOCAL NEEDS. SAN DIEGO AND ORANGE COUNTIES HAVE FOUND THAT UNIFICATION HAS RESULTED IN MORE EFFICIENT DEPLOYMENT OF STAFF, AND HAS ALLOWED THE COURT TO PROVIDE A WIDER ARRAY OF SERVICES IN MORE LOCATIONS INCLUDING EXPANSION OF OUR VERY SUCCESSFUL EFFORTS IN DRUG COURTS AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE COURTS.

ENTHUSIASM FOR THE ADDED FLEXIBILITY TO MEET COURT NEEDS COMBINED WITH THE ELIMINATION OF DUPLICATIVE SERVICES AND POSITIONS AND OTHER COST SAVINGS HAS BEEN HEARD IN COURTS ACROSS THE STATE. THE RESULTS HAVE BENEFITED THE PUBLIC IN THE FORM OF ADDED RESOURCES FOR HANDLING FAMILY LAW, JUVENILE, AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE MATTERS, AS WELL AS GENERAL REDUCTIONS IN CIVIL CASE BACKLOGS.

AS A RESULT OF THOSE TWO INNOVATIONS - STATE TRIAL COURT FUNDING AND UNIFICATION, NICELY COINCIDING WITH A HEALTHIER ECONOMY - THE ENTIRE TENOR OF OUR BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS WITH OUR SISTER BRANCHES IN SACRAMENTO CHANGED. BEFORE, WE WERE ARGUING ABOUT SURVIVAL, ABOUT THE FUNDAMENTAL IMPORTANCE OF A FUNCTIONING INDEPENDENT COURT SYSTEM IN OUR DEMOCRACY.

BUT JUSTICE IS NOT A LUXURY TO BE FINANCED IN GOOD TIMES, AND CUT BACK AS AN EXTRAVAGANCE IN BAD TIMES. THAT ESSENTIAL MESSAGE NEEDS REPEATING AND MUST BE REINFORCED CONTINUALLY.

THIS PAST YEAR, HOWEVER, OUR COURT SYSTEM WAS ABLE TO SHIFT FROM SIMPLY HANGING ON TO FIRMER FOOTING. THE GOVERNOR AND THE LEGISLATURE WERE VERY RESPONSIVE TO OUR BRANCH’S NEEDS, AND THEIR ACTIONS WILL MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE IN CALIFORNIA - AND HELP OUR SYSTEM OF JUSTICE NOT ONLY PLAN, BUT ALSO REALIZE ITS PLANS, FOR THE FUTURE.

THE REFORMS AND IMPROVEMENTS COVER A VARIETY OF AREAS. ONE ISSUE THAT HAS BEEN A PRIORITY FOR ME AND FOR THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL FOR THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS - JURY REFORM - WAS SUBSTANTIALLY BENEFITED. THE ONE-DAY-OR-ONE-TRIAL MODE OF JURY SERVICE BECAME THE NORM IN CALIFORNIA ON JANUARY 1ST. THE RESPONSE FROM JURORS HAS BEEN VERY POSITIVE STATEWIDE. A RECENT STUDY REVEALED THAT JURORS WHO ACTUALLY SERVE FIND THEIR CONFIDENCE IN THE SYSTEM BOLSTERED, AND ENJOY THEIR EXPERIENCE. DECREASING THE TIME A JUROR HAS TO SIT AND WAIT, COMBINED WITH INCREASING THE CHANCE FOR PARTICIPATION IN HEARING A CASE, HELPS DELIVER THE MESSAGE THAT COURTS VALUE THE ROLE OF JURORS IN THE PROCESS.

ANOTHER MAJOR REFORM AFFECTING JURORS IS A TRIPLING OF THEIR PAY FROM $5 PER DAY - WHICH TIED CALIFORNIA FOR THE LOWEST RATE IN THE NATION - TO $15 PER DAY. THAT $15 IS NOT A PRINCELY SUM BY ANY MEANS, BUT IT MEANS FEWER JURORS WILL BE OUT OF POCKET SIMPLY FOR SHOWING UP.

A WEBSITE FOR JURORS CONTAINING USEFUL INFORMATION, JUROR APPRECIATION WEEK, INNOVATIVE TRANSPORTATION ARRANGEMENTS, AND OTHER HELPFUL TOOLS, ARE ALL IN OPERATION. AND THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL TASK FORCE THAT IS DRAFTING NEW JURY INSTRUCTIONS EMPLOYING USER-FRIENDLY LAY LANGUAGE ALREADY HAS RELEASED MORE THAN 200 OF THE FIRST DRAFT INSTRUCTIONS, WHICH HAVE BEEN VERY WELL RECEIVED IN THE LEGAL AND JUDICIAL COMMUNITY. THIS INNOVATIVE AND AMBITIOUS PROJECT AGAIN DEMONSTRATES THAT OUR SYSTEM IS LISTENING TO THE PUBLIC. WE WANT JURORS TO FEEL RESPECTED AND ACKNOWLEDGED SO THAT THEY ARE FULLY INVESTED IN THEIR ROLE, AND CAN PERFORM THEIR INTEGRAL SERVICE IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM.

COURTS, TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN PERFORMING THEIR MISSION OF PROVIDING FAIR AND ACCESSIBLE JUSTICE, MUST BE SENSITIVE TO THE PUBLIC THEY SERVE AND ITS DIVERSE MAKE-UP AND NEEDS. JUST A FEW WEEKS AGO, A REPORT ANNOUNCED THAT THERE NO LONGER IS A MAJORITY POPULATION GROUP IN CALIFORNIA. WHEN WE CALL OURSELVES CALIFORNIANS WE ARE DECLARING OURSELVES PART OF A RICH AND DIVERSE CULTURE. THE CHALLENGE IS FOR ALL OF US TO ENCOURAGE, LEARN FROM, AND DRAW UPON THE STRENGTHS THAT OUR SHARED MINORITY STATUS CONFERS. FOR OUR SYSTEM OF JUSTICE, THAT MEANS AT A MINIMUM THAT OUR COURTS MUST BE OPEN AND ACCESSIBLE TO ALL THE CONSTITUENT PARTS OF OUR STATE’S POPULATION. AND THAT REQUIRES A COOPERATIVE, COLLABORATIVE APPROACH TO IMPROVING THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE - AND A BROADER VIEW OF WHAT COURTS MUST DO TO ACCOMMODATE THOSE NEEDING THEIR SERVICES.

IT IS AXIOMATIC IN OUR DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM THAT INDIVIDUALS COMING INTO COURT MUST BE ABLE TO UNDERSTAND THE PROCEEDINGS. THERE CAN BE NO JUSTICE IF THERE IS NO COMPREHENSION. TO BREAK DOWN THE MOST BASIC BARRIER, LANGUAGE, WE HAVE ESTABLISHED A CERTIFICATION PROGRAM TO ENSURE ACCURATE INTERPRETATION, AND INCREASED THE PAY FOR CERTIFIED AND REGISTERED COURT INTERPRETERS - FOR THE THIRD TIME IN 18 MONTHS - TO $265 PER DAY.

INDIVIDUALS WITHOUT COUNSEL ARE MORE AND MORE A REALITY, ESPECIALLY IN FAMILY LAW MATTERS. IN SOME COUNTIES, IN MORE THAN 60% OF FAMILY LAW CASES, NEITHER PARTY IS REPRESENTED. THE CHANCE THAT INDIVIDUALS WITHOUT COUNSEL WILL NEVER SEE THEIR RIGHTS VINDICATED OR RECEIVE BENEFITS TO WHICH THEY ARE ENTITLED IS A VERY REAL ONE. THE CRISIS OF LITIGANTS WITHOUT COUNSEL IS ONE THAT EACH OF YOU HERE HAS THE ABILITY TO HELP TO ALLEVIATE - AND IT IS ONE THAT THE COURTS ARE COPING WITH AS WELL.

TWO NIGHTS AGO I WAS HONORED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE STATE BAR’S AWARD CEREMONY HERE HONORING THE PRO BONO CONTRIBUTIONS OF LAWYERS FROM AROUND THE STATE. IT WAS PARTICULARLY SIGNIFICANT IN LIGHT OF A RECENT POLL SHOWING THAT EACH OF THE 50,000 OR SO ATTORNEYS AT THE NATION’S 100 HIGHEST-GROSSING FIRMS SPEND ABOUT 8 MINUTES A DAY ON PRO BONO ACTIVITIES - AVERAGING A GRAND TOTAL OF 36 HOURS PER YEAR.

I RECOGNIZE THAT THE HEADLINE-GRABBING INCREASES IN SALARIES AT MANY LAW FIRMS ARE MATCHED BY A GUT-WRENCHING INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF BILLABLE HOURS EXPECTED FROM THOSE EARNING THESE HIGH SALARIES. YET AS ABNER MIKVA, A FORMER FEDERAL JUDGE, OBSERVED IN A RECENT OP-ED PIECE, "IF NEOPHYTE LAWYERS ARE ONLY DOING WELL AND NOT DOING GOOD, THEY HAVE REASON TO FEEL CHEATED." AND, I WOULD ADD, THAT APPLIES TO EXPERIENCED ATTORNEYS AS WELL.

LAWYERS WHOSE SOLE FOCUS IS ON THE BOTTOM LINE MAY SEE THEIR BANK ACCOUNTS GROW, BUT SURVEYS HAVE SHOWN THAT THEIR JOB SATISFACTION IS LIKELY TO DWINDLE. MANY OF US ENTERED THE LEGAL PROFESSION BECAUSE WE WANTED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE - NOT JUST IN OUR PERSONAL SITUATIONS, BUT IN SOCIETY. AS SOMEONE WHO HAS SERVED IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR FOR MY ENTIRE CAREER, I SHARE JUDGE MIKVA’S SENTIMENT: I WOULD NOT TRADE WHAT I HAVE DONE.

ACCESS AND FAIRNESS IN THE COURTS ARE NOT ABSTRACT PHILOSOPHICAL PRINCIPLES - THEY ARE BASIC TO PRESERVING THE RULE OF LAW. AS LAWYERS, YOU ARE AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE SYSTEM OF JUSTICE. ADVANCING THE CAUSE OF JUSTICE REQUIRES THE PARTICIPATION OF LAWYERS IN PROTECTING AND ENHANCING THE SYSTEM AS A WHOLE - NOT SIMPLY THE INTERESTS OF THEIR CLIENTS OR THEMSELVES. I HOPE THAT YOU WILL JOIN YOUR PEERS WHO WERE HONORED TWO EVENINGS AGO, AND TAKE SOME TIME TO ASSIST THOSE WHO OTHERWISE WOULD HAVE NO LEGAL ASSISTANCE. WITH YOUR SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE, YOU HAVE A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY TO TRANSFORM LIVES - INCLUDING YOUR OWN.

THE COURTS TOO ARE TAKING THE PROBLEM OF UNREPRESENTED LITIGANTS VERY SERIOUSLY, AND REACHING OUT IN UNPRECEDENTED WAYS TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE. IN CONSULTATION WITH THE STATE BAR, THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM IS ESTABLISHING A NEW STATEWIDE TASK FORCE ON "PRO PERS." BUT COURTS ARE NOT AWAITING THE TASK FORCE’S RECOMMENDATIONS TO PROCEED. SOME ALREADY ARE USING SELF-HELP CENTERS TO ASSIST LITIGANTS. ACROSS THE STATE, CHILD SUPPORT COMMISSIONERS ARE ASSISTING THOSE SEEKING SUPPORT. THE CENTER FOR FAMILIES, CHILDREN AND THE COURTS, A MAJOR UNIT OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS, IS SPEARHEADING A VARIETY OF PROJECTS FOCUSED ON IMPROVING HOW COURTS TREAT FAMILIES AND THEIR ISSUES. FOR EXAMPLE, THE CENTER HAS DEVELOPED AND DISTRIBUTED A VIDEO AND WRITTEN MATERIALS, IN BOTH ENGLISH AND SPANISH, TO HELP UNREPRESENTED LITIGANTS APPLY FOR OR RESPOND TO A DOMESTIC VIOLENCE RESTRAINING ORDER.

IN OTHER LOCAL EFFORTS, MANY COURTS ARE COORDINATING WITH LOCAL BAR ASSOCIATIONS TO PROVIDE LIMITED LEGAL ASSISTANCE, SUCH AS HELP IN FILLING OUT FORMS, AT THE COURTHOUSE. THE LOS ANGELES SUPERIOR COURT, IN PARTNERSHIP WITH VOLUNTEER LAWYERS, AND IN COORDINATION WITH THE LOCAL SOCIAL SERVICES AGENCIES, HAS FACILITATED THE ADOPTION OF THOUSANDS OF CHILDREN IN FOSTER CARE BY HOSTING "ADOPTION SATURDAY" EACH NOVEMBER. SACRAMENTO HAS A SIMILAR PROGRAM AND OTHER COURTS ARE READY TO FOLLOW. I PARTICIPATED IN LOS ANGELES LAST YEAR, ASSIGNING MYSELF TO BE A TRIAL JUDGE FOR THE DAY AND PRESIDING OVER 10 ADOPTION HEARINGS. IT WAS A VERY FULFILLING EXPERIENCE, AND I HOPE TO REPEAT IT SOON. I CAN THINK OF FEW ACTIVITIES FOR A JUDGE OR A LAWYER THAT ARE MORE SATISFYING THAN BEING PART OF CREATING A PERMANENT FAMILY FOR A CHILD.

STATEWIDE, THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL, IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE STATE BAR, HAS BEEN WORKING TO ADMINISTER $10 MILLION IN THE LEGAL SERVICES TRUST FUND DISTRIBUTED TO LEGAL SERVICES AGENCIES TO ASSIST INDIGENT CLIENTS IN CIVIL MATTERS. OF THOSE FUNDS, $1 MILLION IS USED FOR "PARTNERSHIP GRANTS" THAT JOIN TOGETHER LOCAL COURTS AND LOCAL LEGAL SERVICES AGENCIES TO PROVIDE SERVICES FOR PRO PERS. LOW INCOME CLIENTS HAVE RECEIVED ASSISTANCE WITH PROBLEMS INVOLVING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, FAMILY LAW, HOUSING, AND IMMIGRATION.

THE NEEDS OF OTHER LITIGANTS AND LAWYERS ARE ALSO BEING ADDRESSED BY THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM. SIX COUNTIES ARE PARTICIPATING IN A NEW COMPLEX LITIGATION PILOT PROJECT TO EVALUATE METHODS OF BEST HANDLING COMPLEX CASES. THIS PROGRAM WILL DEVELOP MODELS OF BEST PRACTICES THAT CAN THEN BE ADOPTED BY COURTS STATEWIDE. OTHER PILOT PROGRAMS ARE FOCUSING ON PROVIDING JUDGES WITH TRAINING AND RESOURCES TO IMPROVE THEIR ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION SKILLS.

LITIGANTS, ATTORNEYS, AND THE PUBLIC NOW CAN RETRIEVE UP-TO-DATE INFORMATION ABOUT COURT OF APPEAL CASES OFF THE WEB - AND OF COURSE THE COURT SYSTEM’S WEBSITE OFFERS INSTANT ACCESS TO FILED OPINIONS OF THE SUPREME COURT. EFFECTIVELY USING TECHNOLOGY PROVIDES ONE OF THE GREATEST CHALLENGES FACING THE COURTS.

ALREADY, THE SIX LARGEST SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TRIAL COURTS HAVE BEGUN COLLABORATING ON INITIATIVES TO REDUCE THE MORE THAN 38 EXISTING CASE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS TO AS FEW AS SEVEN. THE CURRENT BUDGET ALLOCATES $21 MILLION TO BEGIN THIS WORK. A SIMILAR EFFORT IN SIX RURAL LOCATIONS WILL SEEK TO ESTABLISH A MODEL THAT WILL BRING AFFORDABLE, INTEGRATED TECHNOLOGY TO EVEN THE SMALLEST COUNTIES IN THE STATE.

BRINGING COURTS UP TO SPEED IS IMPORTANT FOR PRACTITIONERS AS WELL AS FOR THE HANDLING OF INTERNAL COURT PROCESSES. TWO YEARS AGO, THE COUNCIL FOR THE FIRST TIME SPONSORED LEGISLATION TO PROVIDE A UNIFORM SYSTEM FOR ELECTRONIC FILING OF COURT DOCUMENTS. AFTER AN INITIAL PHASE AUTHORIZING TRIAL COURTS TO ADOPT LOCAL RULES, A DRAFT OF STATEWIDE RULES ON PRIVACY, ACCESS TO COURT INFORMATION, AND ELECTRONIC FILING WILL BE CIRCULATED FOR COMMENT NEXT SUMMER.

OUR COURT SYSTEM ALSO HAS BEEN FOCUSING ON OTHER KINDS OF SYSTEMIC MODIFICATIONS TO MAKE THE COURTS MORE USER-FRIENDLY AND EFFECTIVE. FOR EXAMPLE, THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL HAS MADE FURTHER PROGRESS TOWARD ITS GOAL OF INCREASING THE STANDARDIZATION OF COURT PRACTICES BY ADOPTING ADDITIONAL UNIFORM COURT RULES, MOST RECENTLY IN PRETRIAL PROCEEDINGS iN CIVIL CASES, EFFECTIVE JULY 1, 2000, IN ALL STATE TRIAL COURTS.

NEW RULES ALSO WERE ADOPTED AT THE MOST RECENT JUDICIAL COUNCIL MEETINGS THAT CLARIFY THE DUTIES AND THE AUTHORITY OF PRESIDING JUDGES AND COURT EXECUTIVES IN THE TRIAL COURTS. STATEWIDE FUNDING IMPLICATES STATEWIDE ACCOUNTABILITY FOR LOCAL ACTION. THE COUNCIL CONTINUES TO WORK TO DEVELOP RULES THAT WILL ASSIST LOCAL COURTS IN MEETING THE CHALLENGES OF THE NEW STRUCTURE.

THE SUPERSTRUCTURE THAT SUPPORTS THE COURTS ALSO NEEDS ATTENTION. UNFORTUNATELY, OUR FACILITIES ARE NOT IMMUNE TO ACTS OF VIOLENCE BY VISITORS TO OUR COURTHOUSES. TOO OFTEN COURTS FIND THEMSELVES NOT MERELY ADJUDICATING CLAIMS INVOLVING VIOLENCE, BUT INSTEAD SERVING AS THE STAGE ON WHICH VIOLENCE OCCURS. COURT SECURITY CONTINUES TO BE AN URGENT CONCERN, AND ALTHOUGH THERE HAVE BEEN SOME IMPROVEMENTS, MUCH REMAINS TO BE DONE. MORE MONEY FOR THIS PURPOSE WILL BE SOUGHT IN THE 2001-2002 BUDGET. COURTS MUST BE A SAFE HARBOR, NOT A POTENTIALLY DEADLY BATTLEGROUND.

COURT FACILITIES PRESENT THE NEXT BIG HURDLE. DURING THE TRANSITION FROM COUNTY TO STATE FUNDING OF THE TRIAL COURTS, SOME FACILITIES NEEDS HAVE BEEN DISREGARDED - AT THE SAME TIME THAT YEARS OF ACCUMULATED NEGLECT BEGAN TO SHOW. aPPROXIMATELY 2/3 OF THESE FACILITIES WERE BUILT PRIOR TO 1980 - MOST PRIOR TO 1970 - BEFORE SEISMIC STANDARDS OR THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT. THE STATEWIDE TASK FORCE ON COURT FACILITIES, CREATED BY THE TRIAL COURT FUNDING ACT OF 1997, HAS BEEN COMPREHENSIVELY SURVEYING THE NEEDS AND CONDITIONS OF THE APPROXIMATELY 400 STATE TRIAL AND APPELLATE COURT FACILITIES IN CALIFORNIA AND WILL BE MAKING RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUNDING MAINTENANCE, IMPROVEMENTS, EXPANSION, AND THE SPECIFIC RESPONSIBILITIES OF EACH ENTITY OF GOVERNMENT FOR COURT FACILITIES.

OF COURSE, COURTS ARE MORE THAN BRICKS AND MORTAR AND STEEL - THEY ARE THE PEOPLE WHO WORK WITHIN THEM. THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE STATEWIDE TASK FORCE ON TRIAL COURT EMPLOYEES FOR A PERSONNEL SYSTEM FOR CALIFORNIA’S APPROXIMATELY 18,000 TRIAL COURT EMPLOYEES WAS ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE THIS YEAR, AND IT OFFERS AN ORDERLY TRANSITION FROM COUNTY TO COURT PERSONNEL STRUCTURES.

SENATE BILL 1782 CONTAINS A LEGISLATIVE REQUEST THAT THE SUPREME COURT APPOINT A TASK FORCE TO STUDY AND MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE ISSUE OF MULTIJURISDICTIONAL PRACTICE - THAT IS, WHETHER AND UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES ATTORNEYS LICENSED TO PRACTICE IN OTHER STATES BUT NOT IN CALIFORNIA MAY PRACTICE LAW HERE. I INTEND TO APPOINT A COMMITTEE BY THE END OF THE YEAR, AND THE FOCUS WILL BE ON WHAT BEST SERVES AND PROTECTS THE PUBLIC’S INTERESTS. THE STATE BAR ALREADY HAS STEPPED FORWARD TO ASSIST IN THIS EFFORT.

NOR HAVE JUDICIAL OFFICERS BEEN IGNORED. THIS YEAR’S BUDGET PROVIDES FUNDING FOR AN 8.5% BASE SALARY INCREASE FOR STATE JUDGES. THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT FIRST STEP THAT ACKNOWLEDGES THE GAP THAT HAS GROWN BETWEEN COMPENSATION FOR JUDGES AND COMPENSATION FOR THE PUBLIC ATTORNEYS WHO APPEAR BEFORE THEM.

THE DISPARITY BETWEEN PRIVATE COMPENSATION AND THE COMPENSATION OF JUDGES HAS GROWN SO GLARING THAT A FIRST YEAR ASSOCIATE MAY RECEIVE MORE THAN THE JUDGE BEFORE WHOM HE OR SHE APPEARS. THE SALARY OF PUBLIC LEGAL OFFICERS ALSO FREQUENTLY EXCEEDS THAT OF THE JUDGE WHO DECIDES THEIR CASES. NEXT YEAR I SHALL SEEK THE SECOND 8.5% PHASE OF THE PROPOSAL THAT WAS PRESENTED LAST YEAR TO BRING JUDICIAL SALARIES TO A MORE EQUITABLE LEVEL.

THE LEGISLATURE ALSO HAS ADOPTED AN EXTENDED SERVICE INCENTIVE PROGRAM TO ENCOURAGE JUDGES WHO HAVE REACHED THE MAXIMUM RETIREMENT BENEFIT LEVEL TO REMAIN IN PUBLIC SERVICE, AND WE HOPE IT WILL BE APPROVED BY THE GOVERNOR. i believe THESE MEASURES TOGETHER WILL ASSIST IN ATTRACTING AND RETAINING THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST TO THE CALIFORNIA BENCH.

ADDITIONALLY, THE LEGISLATURE HAS APPROVED OUR REQUEST FOR NEW JUDGESHIPS - 20 AT THE TRIAL COURT LEVEL AND 12 FOR THE COURTS OF APPEAL. THIS BRINGS CALIFORNIA’S JUDICIARY - ALREADY THE LARGEST SINGLE JUDICIAL SYSTEM IN THE WORLD - TO A TOTAL OF 1,611 JUDGES, PLUS HUNDREDS OF COMMISSIONERS AND REFEREES.

AS YOU CAN SEE, DURING THE PAST YEAR THERE HAVE BEEN MANY SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENTS AFFECTING THE COURT SYSTEM IN ALMOST EVERY RESPECT - AND I ASSURE YOU THAT I HAVE REFRAINED FROM GIVING YOU A LAUNDRY LIST OF MANY MORE. MUCH HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED - FREQUENTLY WITH HELPFUL SUPPORT FROM THE STATE AND LOCAL BARS. MUCH MORE IS IN DEVELOPMENT, AND MUCH MORE REMAINS TO BE DONE.

THIS IS A TIME OF TREMENDOUS EXCITEMENT AND OPPORTUNITY FOR IMPROVING OUR COURTS TO BENEFIT THE PUBLIC. THE STATE BAR SIMILARLY IS POISED AT A CRITICAL STAGE IN ITS DEVELOPMENT. IT TOO HAS UNDERTAKEN A GREAT MANY REFORMS, PARTICULARLY IN ITS DISCIPLINE SYSTEM. MANY TASKS STILL LIE AHEAD, AND THE NEW BOARD AND NEW EXECUTIVE STAFF TEAM BOTH HAVE VOICED THEIR ENTHUSIASM FOR RESHAPING AND REBUILDING THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO ENABLE THE BAR TO BETTER SERVE BOTH THE PUBLIC AND CALIFORNIA’S ATTORNEYS. THE CHALLENGE FOR THE BAR IS TO CRAFT A LASTING AND MEANINGFUL STRUCTURAL FOUNDATION TO ENABLE IT TO FULFILL THIS MISSION.

ADMINISTERING JUSTICE IS NOT FOR THE MYOPIC. NEITHER IS THE PRACTICE OF LAW. TO FULFILL THE PROMISES OF EACH DEMANDS BROAD VISION, COMBINED WITH A SHARP AND FIRM FOCUS ON ACCESS AND FAIRNESS. PRESERVING AN INDEPENDENT AND VITAL JUSTICE SYSTEM IS THE OBLIGATION AND RESPONSIBILITY OF EVERY LAWYER AND JURIST, AND PRESENTLY THE OPPORTUNITIES FOR HAVING AN IMPACT AND FULFILLING THOSE DUTIES ARE MANY AND VARIED.

AS WE CELEBRATE THE SESQUICENTENNIAL OF OUR STATE AND ENTER A NEW MILLENNIUM, LET ME SHARE WITH YOU THE WORDS OF HENRY STIMSON, SECRETARY OF WAR FOR BOTH THEODORE AND FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR HERBERT HOOVER, IN THE INTRODUCTION TO HIS MEMOIRS, WRITTEN IN 1948:

"I CAME TO LEARN AND UNDERSTAND THE NOBLE HISTORY OF THE PROFESSION OF THE LAW. I CAME TO REALIZE THAT WITHOUT A BAR TRAINED IN THE CONDITIONS OF COURAGE AND LOYALTY, OUR CONSTITUTIONAL THEORIES OF INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY WOULD CEASE TO BE A LIVING REALITY. . . . SO I CAME TO FEEL THAT THE AMERICAN LAWYER SHOULD REGARD HIMSELF AS A POTENTIAL OFFICER OF HIS GOVERNMENT AND A DEFENDER OF ITS LAWS AND CONSTITUTION. I FELT THAT IF THE TIME SHOULD EVER COME WHEN THIS TRADITION HAD FADED OUT AND THE MEMBERS OF THE BAR HAD BECOME MERELY THE SERVANTS OF BUSINESS, THE FUTURE OF OUR LIBERTIES WOULD BE GLOOMY INDEED."

I BELIEVE THAT OUR BAR AND OUR COURTS HAVE CHOSEN TO STAND FIRM AS DEFENDERS OF THE RULE OF LAW. BUT I ALSO BELIEVE THAT IS A CHOICE THAT MUST BE MADE OVER AND OVER AGAIN. I INVITE YOU TO WORK WITH THE COURTS IN THE YEARS AHEAD TO ENSURE THAT THE RIGHT CHOICE CONTINUES TO BE MADE - NOT ONLY IN FURTHERANCE OF THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE, BUT TO THE BENEFIT OF EACH OF YOUR PROFESSIONAL LIVES.

THANK YOU FOR INVITING ME TO JOIN YOU HERE TODAY. AND BEST WISHES AGAIN TO YOUR NEW OFFICERS AND BOARD.

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