Chief Justice Speech - June 9, 2003

JUNE 9, 2003

Good morning. I am very pleased to join you here today to celebrate the groundbreaking for an innovative and much-needed juvenile dependency facility. I want to thank Presiding Judge Michael Welch for inviting me to join you, and Court Executive Officer Tressa Kentner for her assistance.

This building marks the culmination of an effective partnership between the Superior Court and San Bernardino County's Department of Children's Services. The result will be to meet an urgent need first publicly recognized in 1990 when then-Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Jim Edwards and Court Manager Mary Davis successfully convinced the Superior Court to make a new juvenile dependency court its first priority.

A concrete solution to meet that need began to develop in 1999-2000, and the next few years saw the evolution of the project, with funding allocated by the county and the decision to include the Department of Children Services. Judge Donna Garza, former Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court, and John Michaelson, former Chief Administrative Officer for the County, were key to translating a priority into a reality. Presiding Judge Michael Welch, and Judge Rex Victor, the present Juvenile Court Presiding Judge, are vigorously leading this effort toward completion.

The new juvenile court facility will provide concrete and essential services that will make a fundamental difference in the lives of children - the most vulnerable members of our society. It was made possible only because of the cooperation of many public officials, including members of the bench. San Bernardino is California's largest county - in fact I believe it is the largest county in the continental United States. It encompasses deserts and mountains, cities and small somewhat isolated communities, with a population of almost 2 million. Courthouses are situated in 15 locations around the county. The demands on the courts and on all segments of government are varied and often involve competing for limited resources.

In this instance, the members of the bench set aside parochial interests favoring projects in their individual regions and supported this countywide facility designed to serve a very significant part of the community. But the efforts of the courts alone would not have been enough. County-level efforts and a partnership with the Department of Children's Services were required in order to make this project succeed.

This is a year in which budget shortfalls on both the state and the local level pose unprecedented challenges to courts and counties and the services they provide. But today's groundbreaking ceremony is particularly timely, because this year marks the 100th anniversary of juvenile courts in California. It is appropriate for us to step back and consider the scope of the achievement we are celebrating today. As we have heard this morning, this new building will permit all juvenile dependency court services and related support agencies to reside in one building, including the Department of Children's Services and the County Counsel's Office. Facilities also will be provided for mediations, attorney/client interviews, a children's waiting room, and a Sheriff's Department holding facility.

In short, this structure will be far more than a courthouse in which matters are adjudicated. It will provide important additional services that will benefit those who come here. And it thus embodies the increasing emphasis of the courts on collaborating with county and other services in order to more effectively serve local communities. You have great reason to take pride in your achievement.

This project is part of a general trend that has developed in California's courts over the past decade — reaching out to the persons they serve so that courts can better understand their interests and needs and respond appropriately. I am particularly supportive of this trend because, as Chief Justice, I serve as the Chair of the Judicial Council, the constitutionally created body charged with creating statewide policy for the administration of justice.

Our state's court system has undergone a fundamental transformation in the past several years at every level. Structurally, the source of funding for the trial courts has changed from a mix of county and state resources to a comprehensive state funding scheme, and the two levels of trial courts, municipal and superior, have been unified 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 and allocate all available resources to best serve the public.

One last major change remains — 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. We anticipate that the transition to state ownership will take place over the next few years, paid primarily through a combination of bonds and fees. But that lies in the future - and this new courthouse is a testament to the foresight and dedication of the local court and of the county government that understood the need to meet today's demands, even as we look to the changes ahead.

Today's occasion reminds us that California's courts, while dealing with ever-more restrictive budget constraints, and in cooperation with local government, have remained focussed on improving the administration of justice and on offering enhanced services to meet the public's needs. Thus far, we generally have been able to cope with the budget reductions without affecting core functions. Because of the structural changes that have taken place in the judicial branch, our courts are far better positioned to maintain the services that the public needs and deserves - but our ability to continue to do so is in jeopardy as we face the constant threat of budget cutbacks.

This juvenile dependency courthouse, which facilitates the effective and efficient resolution of some of the unique problems that arise in the juvenile law area, represents an example of what courts and counties can do with foresight and creativity, even in the face of restricted resources. The great British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, "First we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us." This structure reminds us that the administration of justice is not a theoretical abstraction, but a very real presence in the lives of many individuals who rely on the courts and on all those individuals who will be working here to protect and assist them .

Family and juvenile law matters have been a particular area of concern for the Judicial Council and the local courts. In fact, the Council's staff arm, the Administrative Office of the Courts, includes a Center for Families, Children, and the Courts — which is nationally acclaimed for developing programs that help meet the specialized needs of this group of court users.

Juvenile law touches on the most fundamental of relationships - those between parent and child, siblings, and other family members. These are matters of vital importance to the individuals involved. A child is a child for a limited period of time - yet what happens in that period will have a lasting effect on the rest of his or her life. When juvenile courts become involved in the life of a child, they bear a heavy responsibility to make those events as positive as possible. How we treat our children tells much about us as a society. The configuration of this facility and the combination of entities that will be working within its walls bodes well for the children of San Bernardino.

It is not surprising that San Bernardino's courts have been able to work so well with the Department of Children's Services, the Board of Supervisors, the County Administrative Officer, and others in county government to help create this facility. Over the years, members of the San Bernardino bench and court administration have played an active role in the statewide administration of justice through participation in the work of the Judicial Council and many of its advisory committees. I shall mention just some of those contributions:

Tressa Kentner is serving as an advisory member of the Judicial Council, as well as Vice-Chair of the Court Executives Advisory Committee. Presiding Judge Welch is on the Trial Court Presiding Judges Committee, as well as on the Criminal Law Advisory Committee. Judge Patrick Morris, a former member of the Judicial Council, is on the Collaborative Justice Courts Advisory Committee, and Judge Michael Dest and Ms. Debra Meyers both serve on the Civil and Small Claims Advisory Committee. Judge John Pacheco, along with Ms. Mary Davis, are members of the Court Interpreters Advisory Committee, and Judge Peter Norell serves on the Judicial Service Advisory Committee. And those are only the San Bernardinans presently serving on these statewide bodies.

There are many other activities undertaken by the San Bernardino Court to enhance its service to the public. I shall not take the time to enumerate them, but the court has been recognized over the past 10 years by 4 KLEPS Awards, conferred by the Judicial Council for innovative programs that have enhanced the court's assistance to the public. Your court was one of the first in the state to implement a mental health court and among the first in the nation to create a drug court.

But let me return now to the reason we are gathered here today — the groundbreaking of this new building designed to house the juvenile dependency Court, the Department of Children's Services, and related entities. By maintaining an excellent working relationship with the Board of Supervisors and the County Administrative Officer, as well as among the members of the bench itself, the San Bernardino Court has been able to realize the goal of creating a facility ideally suited to serving the children of San Bernardino.

The residents of San Bernardino County owe a debt of gratitude to all those in the courts and in local government who worked together for the common good in producing a facility that will well serve the families and children of your county now and far into the future, and provide a model for other courts across the state.

Thank you for inviting me to join in the groundbreaking of this important facility. Congratulations again on your achievement in going forward with this excellent project. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you in the future as we continue to improve the administration of justice for all the people of our state.

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