Chief Justice Speech - October 2, 1999

State of the Judiciary Address

CALIFORNIA STATE BAR CONVENTION
REMARKS BY CHIEF JUSTICE RONALD M. GEORGE
LONG BEACH
OCTOBER 2, 1999

GOOD MORNING. IT IS A GREAT PLEASURE TO BE HERE. I WANT TO BEGIN BY THANKING RAY MARSHALL AND THE OTHER OFFICERS AND MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF GOVERNORS FOR THEIR EFFORTS AND HARD WORK OVER THE PAST YEAR. DURING A DIFFICULT TIME FOR THE BAR, THEY HAVE PROVIDED STRONG LEADERSHIP THAT HAS BEEN CRUCIAL TO ENABLING THE BAR TO RETURN TO ITS BASIC FUNCTIONS - PROVIDING PROTECTION FOR THE PUBLIC AND ADVANCING THE INTERESTS OF THE PROFESSION. CONGRATULATIONS TO YOUR NEW PRESIDENT ANDREW GUILFORD AND THE OTHER NEW OFFICERS AND MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF GOVERNORS. I HOPE THAT THE YEAR AHEAD FOR YOU IS A PRODUCTIVE AND - DARE I SAY IT - A RELATIVELY UNEVENTFUL ONE.

AS YOU ALL ARE WELL AWARE, THE BAR FOUND ITSELF IN A CRISIS WHEN THE LEGISLATURE AND THE GOVERNOR FAILED TO REACH AGREEMENT ON A DUES BILL FOR 1998. THE SUPREME COURT BECAME DEEPLY CONCERNED ABOUT THE DETRIMENTAL IMPACT OF THE ABSENCE OF A FUNCTIONING ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY SYSTEM ON THE PUBLIC AND THE PROFESSION LAST DECEMBER. EXERCISING ITS INHERENT POWER TO REGULATE THE ADMISSION AND DISCIPLINE OF ATTORNEYS, THE COURT UNANIMOUSLY ORDERED IMPOSITION OF DUES IN AN AMOUNT DESIGNED TO SUPPORT THE DISCIPLINARY FUNCTIONS OF THE STATE BAR.

THE COURT APPOINTED FORMER COURT OF APPEAL JUSTICE ELWOOD LUI AS SPECIAL MASTER TO OVERSEE THE EXPENDITURE OF THE FUNDS COLLECTED AND TO ASSIST THE BAR IN RESPONDING TO THE PROBLEMS CREATED BY THE LAY-OFF OF THE VAST MAJORITY OF ITS WORK FORCE IN JUNE OF 1998. SINCE HIS APPOINTMENT, JUSTICE LUI HAS WORKED CLOSELY WITH THE BAR, AND MADE REGULAR REPORTS TO THE COURT.

IT IS CLEAR THAT HE HAS DONE AN EXCELLENT JOB, FOR WHICH THE COURT AND THE ENTIRE BAR OWE HIM OUR SINCERE THANKS. BUT HIS SUCCESS WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE HAD THE STAFF OF THE STATE BAR, THE STATE BAR COURT, AND THE BOARD OF GOVERNORS NOT RESPONDED WITH ENTHUSIASM, CREATIVITY, AND DILIGENCE TO THE CHALLENGE OF REBUILDING WHAT WAS ONCE THIS NATION'S PREMIER ATTORNEY DISCIPLINE SYSTEM - AND WHICH WE ALL STRONGLY ANTICIPATE SOON WILL BE AGAIN. THEY HAVE ACCOMPLISHED A GREAT DEAL DURING THE PAST YEAR, BUT THE TASK IS NOT YET COMPLETED. MUCH REMAINS TO BE DONE, AND I AM CONFIDENT THAT THE NEW BAR LEADERSHIP AND TALENTED BAR STAFF HAVE THE RESOURCES TO SEE THIS PROCESS THROUGH TO COMPLETION.

THE UNDERLYING CHALLENGE FOR ALL CONCERNED CONTINUES TO BE TO HEED AND LEARN FROM THE LESSONS OF THIS CRISIS. SIMPLY RETURNING TO THE STATUS QUO ANTE IS NOT A REALISTIC OPTION. THIS IS THE TIME FOR UNDERTAKING A THOUGHTFUL EXAMINATION OF THE BAR'S FUNCTIONS, RESPONSIBILITIES, AND STRUCTURES. SUCCESS REQUIRES OPENNESS TO CHANGE AND INNOVATION. IT DEMANDS REASONED RESPONSIVENESS TO THE NEEDS AND CONCERNS OF ALL FACETS OF THE PUBLIC WE SERVE, AND THE INTERESTS OF THE ATTORNEYS WHOM THE BAR REPRESENTS.

WE IN THE JUDICIAL BRANCH KNOW FROM EXPERIENCE THAT TACKLING SUCH A CHALLENGE CAN BE TREMENDOUSLY REWARDING. OUR BRANCH HAS BEEN UNDERGOING UNPRECEDENTED SELF-EXAMINATION AND CHANGE, AND WE ARE IN A TRANSITION PERIOD UNPARALLELED IN THIS CENTURY - AND I WOULD NOT BE SURPRISED IF THAT CONTINUES FOR THE NEXT CENTURY AS WELL. LOOKING BACK AT THE 150-YEAR HISTORY OF OUR STATE, I BELIEVE IT WOULD BE WISE NOT EVEN TO VENTURE A GUESS ON ANY SUBJECT THAT FAR AHEAD.

CONSIDER JUST THE PAST THREE YEARS - THE FUNDING STRUCTURE FOR THE JUDICIAL BRANCH HAS BEEN COMPLETELY REVISED, FOLLOWED BY THE ADOPTION OF A MEASURE PERMITTING THE RECONFIGURATION OF THE TRIAL COURTS INTO A SINGLE LEVEL. STATEWIDE, OUR COURTS ARE GRAPPLING WITH BECOMING YEAR-2000 COMPLIANT, AND THE AN INCREASINGLY DIVERSE POPULATION CONTINUES TO GENERATE NEW DEMANDS. OUR STATE IS ON THE VERGE OF BEING WITHOUT A MAJORITY POPULATION GROUP, INHABITED INSTEAD BY A VIBRANT MIXTURE OF ETHNIC GROUPS AND CULTURES.

OUR COURT SYSTEM REMAINS FIRMLY ROOTED IN PRECEDENT AND HAS BUILT ON WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE - WHILE AT THE SAME TIME FINDING ITS STRUCTURE THRUST FORWARD ON THE CUTTING EDGE OF SOCIETAL CHANGE AND INSTITUTIONAL INNOVATION. LEARNING HOW TO KEEP WHAT WORKS, DISCARD WHAT DOES NOT, AND EMBRACE HELPFUL INNOVATION REQUIRES CONSTANT VIGILANCE AND ENGAGEMENT BY ALL OF US - BUT THE PRICE IS WELL WORTH IT, BECAUSE THE POSSIBILITIES FOR MAKING POSITIVE CONTRIBUTIONS ARE ENDLESS.

THE ENACTMENT OF THE LOCKYER-ISENBERG TRIAL COURT FUNDING ACT OF 1997, WHICH TOOK EFFECT JANUARY 1, 1998, HERALDED THE LONG-AWAITED CHANGE TO SINGLE-SOURCE FUNDING FOR THE TRIAL COURTS. THOSE OF YOU WHO ATTENDED THE STATE BAR CONVENTION TWO YEARS AGO MAY REMEMBER THAT I BEGAN MY SPEECH BY ANNOUNCING THAT ONLY A FEW HOURS EARLIER THE LEGISLATURE HAD ENACTED THE STATE FUNDING BILL - IN THE FINAL MINUTES OF AN ALL-NIGHT SESSION. I AM JUST AS HAPPY NOT TO HAVE ANOTHER CLIFF-HANGER LIKE THAT TO REPORT TO YOU. BUT ALTHOUGH THERE WERE NO DRAMATIC LAST-MINUTE DEVELOPMENTS THIS YEAR, WE STILL FACE EXCITING ONGOING CHANGES IN OUR JUSTICE SYSTEM.

WE CONTINUE TO BE IN TRANSITION. THE FULL IMPACT OF THE SWITCH TO STATE FUNDING LIKELY WILL TAKE AT LEAST FIVE YEARS TO REALIZE, BUT IN THE LESS-THAN TWO YEARS SINCE ITS IMPLEMENTATION WE HAVE SEEN WIDE-SPREAD PROGRESS. FIRST, AND MOST FUNDAMENTALLY, COURTS NO LONGER HAVE TO JUGGLE BETWEEN TWO FUNDING SOURCES - THEIR COUNTY BOARDS OF SUPERVISORS AND THE STATE - IN ORDER TO OBTAIN NECESSARY RESOURCES. FORMERLY, NEITHER SOURCE OF FUNDING WAS FULLY RESPONSIBLE; THE TWO SYSTEMS OPERATED ON DIFFERENT FISCAL YEARS, AND FUNDING FOR THE COURTS - AS WELL AS THE QUALITY OF JUSTICE THEY WERE ABLE TO PROVIDE - VARIED SUBSTANTIALLY ACROSS THE STATE, DEPENDENT ON THE FISCAL HEALTH OF THE LOCAL COMMUNITY. COURTS INCREASINGLY HAD TO SPEND EXTRAVAGANT AMOUNTS OF TIME SIMPLY TRYING TO OBTAIN BARE-BONES FUNDING TO KEEP THEIR DOORS OPEN. EMPLOYEES WERE LAID OFF, HOURS OF SERVICE CUT BACK, AND SOME COURTS WERE ON THE VERGE OF TOTAL CLOSURE - A RESULT AVOIDED ONLY BY A LAST MINUTE BAIL-OUT BY THE STATE IN 1997.

AS LAWYERS, I AM CERTAIN MANY OF YOU ENCOUNTERED THE FALL-OUT OF THIS CRISIS IN THE COURTS. FEWER SERVICES AND RESOURCES WERE AVAILABLE. AND OF COURSE, THE PUBLIC ULTIMATELY WAS PAYING THE PRICE FOR INADEQUATE FUNDING. TOO OFTEN, THE COURTS COULD NOT DELIVER BASIC SERVICES THAT CALIFORNIANS HAVE THE RIGHT TO EXPECT.

STATE FUNDING HAS BEGUN TO MAKE THINGS MATERIALLY BETTER, ALTHOUGH, TO BE SURE, THE TRANSITION HAS NOT BEEN SEAMLESS.

THIS YEAR, OUR EFFORTS IN THIS REGARD MET WITH FAR GREATER SUCCESS. THE BUDGET PROCESS RESULTED IN MORE THAN $35 MILLION OF NEW FUNDING APPROPRIATED TO THE MODERNIZATION FUND, ALL PART OF AN AGGREGATE $125 MILLION INCREASE IN FUNDING FOR THE TRIAL COURTS - ABOUT AN 8 % INCREASE OVERALL. THIS YEAR, THE MODERNIZATION FUNDS WILL BE USED PRIMARILY FOR IMPROVING TECHNOLOGY AND SECURITY IN COURTHOUSES.

DESPITE MY OWN PERSONAL TECHNOLOGICAL DEFICIENCIES, I AM WELL AWARE OF THE POTENTIAL BENEFITS THAT THE THOUGHTFUL AND COORDINATED APPLICATION OF NEW TECHNOLOGY CAN BRING TO THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE.

WITH THE MONEY AVAILABLE THIS YEAR, COURTS ARE TACKLING THE UP-GRADE OF FREQUENTLY INADEQUATE COMPUTER SYSTEMS. IN A RELATED DEVELOPMENT, A RECENTLY ENACTED BILL -SENATE BILL 367 AUTHORED BY SENATOR JOE DUNN - AUTHORIZES THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL TO FORMULATE A RULE IN THE NEXT FOUR YEARS GOVERNING ELECTRONIC FILING AND SERVICE. LOCAL RULES MAY BE ADOPTED SOONER, BUT THEY WILL HAVE TO BE MADE CONSISTENT WITH THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL RULE, ONCE IT IS ADOPTED. BUT THE FULL SUCCESS OF A PROGRAM TO UTILIZE ELECTRONIC FILING WILL DEPEND ON THE RESOURCES AVAILABLE TO COURTS TO IMPLEMENT IT.

NUMEROUS COURTS ALSO HAVE INITIATED IMPROVEMENTS IN THEIR SECURITY SYSTEMS, AND THE MONEY IN THE MODERNIZATION FUND WILL ASSIST IN THESE EFFORTS. SECURITY IS BUT ONE COMPONENT OF AN OVERALL INITIATIVE TO UPGRADE CALIFORNIA'S COURT FACILITIES, WHICH IN MANY COUNTIES CLEARLY ARE SUBSTANDARD. CALIFORNIA'S COURTHOUSES MUST BE SAFE AND SECURE. THEY NEED ADEQUATE SCREENING FOR WEAPONS AND NECESSARY EARTHQUAKE PROOFING.

A STATEWIDE TASK FORCE HAS BEEN STUDYING EACH COURT SITE AND WILL BE MAKING RECOMMENDATIONS ABOUT IMPROVING THE APPROXIMATELY 400 COURT FACILITIES ACROSS CALIFORNIA. THE NEXT MAJOR FISCAL CHALLENGE WILL BE FINANCING MUCH NEEDED AND LONG OVER-DUE BUILDING AND RENOVATION PROJECTS.

IN ADDITION TO BEING SAFE, COURTHOUSES MUST BE ACCESSIBLE TO THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY, WITH ENTRANCES EASILY NAVIGABLE BY ANYONE, CLEAR SIGNAGE, AND APPROPRIATE AND PROMPT ASSISTANCE - EVEN IF THE USER DOES NOT SPEAK ENGLISH. IN THAT REGARD, WE HAVE OBTAINED INCREASED PAYMENT FOR INTERPRETERS, AND SEEK MORE FUNDING TO PLACE THEM ON A PAR WITH THEIR COUNTERPARTS IN THE FEDERAL SYSTEM AND PRIVATE USERS. HAVING CERTIFIED INTERPRETERS AVAILABLE TO ANYONE WHO NEEDS ONE IS A KEY COMPONENT TO A TRULY ACCESSIBLE COURT SYSTEM.

STATE FUNDING ALLOWS US TO LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE, TO EVALUATE STATEWIDE TRENDS AND NEEDS, TO APPLY LESSONS FROM ONE PART OF THE STATE TO ANOTHER, AND - IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS - TO FOCUS ON WHAT IT TAKES TO PROVIDE EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE IN EVERY COURTHOUSE IN CALIFORNIA.

THE NEWLY INSTITUTED APPROACH TO FINANCING THE COURTS WAS QUICKLY FOLLOWED BY ADOPTION OF PROPOSITION 220, PERMITTING COURTS - ON A MAJORITY VOTE OF BOTH THE SUPERIOR COURT AND THE MUNICIPAL BENCH - TO UNIFY INTO A SINGLE LEVEL TRIAL COURT. THE VAST MAJORITY OF COURTS TOOK ACTION SWIFTLY.

TODAY, 54 OUT OF 58 COUNTIES HAVE UNIFIED. TWO OF THE REMAINING 4 - MONTEREY AND KINGS - WOULD LIKE TO UNIFY, BUT MUST OBTAIN PRE-CLEARANCE FROM THE FEDERAL SIDE BECAUSE THEY ARE SUBJECT TO THE FEDERAL VOTING RIGHTS ACT. THE OTHER TWO, KERN AND LOS ANGELES, HAVE VOTED NOT TO UNIFY.

I SUPPORTED PROPOSITION 220, BECAUSE UNLIKE AN EARLIER UNSUCCESSFUL VERSION, IT GAVE COURTS A LOCAL OPTION WHETHER TO UNIFY. WHAT DO I THINK OF IT NOW? WELL, AT A HISTORY DEPARTMENT COMMENCEMENT THAT I ADDRESSED AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT BERKELEY THIS PAST MAY, A SPEAKER COMMENTED ON HOW CAUTIOUS HISTORIANS TEND TO BE: ONE MODERN OBSERVER, WHEN ASKED HIS VIEW OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, RESPONDED "IT'S TOO EARLY TO TELL."

IN THE LAW, HOWEVER, WE TAKE A SOMEWHAT DIFFERENT VIEW. WHEN WE SPEAK OF "THE LAW'S DELAY," IT IS NOT INTENDED AS PRAISE, AND THE OLD MAXIM, "JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED," HIGHLIGHTS THE IMPORTANCE OF TIMELY ACTION.

THUS, WHILE THE HISTORIAN, BEFORE PASSING JUDGMENT, MAY WISH TO CONTEMPLATE THE CONSEQUENCES OF UNIFICATION OVER DECADES YET TO UNFOLD, I AM QUITE WILLING TO SAY RIGHT NOW THAT THE CONCRETE EXPERIENCE WITH UNIFICATION THUS FAR IN COUNTY AFTER COUNTY IN CALIFORNIA - LARGE AND SMALL, URBAN AND RURAL - HAS SHOWN US THE RESULTS , AND THEY LOOK VERY GOOD.

UNIFICATION PROVIDES THE ULTIMATE FREEDOM TO MAKE THE BEST USE OF ALL ADMINISTRATIVE AND JUDICIAL RESOURCES AVAILABLE - AND THE FREEDOM TO DEVELOP PROCEDURES THAT BEST MEET LOCAL NEEDS. EVEN COURTS THAT DO NOT UNIFY ARE REQUIRED TO EXTENSIVELY COORDINATE RESOURCES UNDER THE TERMS OF EXISTING - AND EVEN MORE DEMANDING - LEGISLATIVE MANDATES. AND THE GOVERNOR HAS MADE CLEAR HIS SUPPORT OF UNIFICATION BY MAKING MONEY IN THE TRIAL COURT MODERNIZATION FUND AVAILABLE ONLY TO "UNIFIED" COURTS. THE LABEL "UNIFIED" CARRIES WITH IT A PRESUMPTION OF EFFECTIVE UTILIZATION OF WHAT IS ALREADY AVAILABLE - MAKING OUR SISTER BRANCHES AND THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL MORE IMMEDIATELY RECEPTIVE TO REQUESTS FOR ADDITIONAL RESOURCES.

THE LOS ANGELES SUPERIOR COURT AND MUNICIPAL COURTS HAVE BEEN MEETING TO DRAFT A POSSIBLE UNIFICATION PLAN. I, AND THE ENTIRE JUDICIAL COUNCIL, LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING THE RESULTS. AS THE LARGEST COMPONENT IN CALIFORNIA'S JUDICIAL BRANCH, THE LOS ANGELES COURTS HAVE PROVIDED - AND WILL CONTINUE TO PROVIDE - MUCH LEADERSHIP IN ADDRESSING OUR SYSTEM'S CHALLENGES. THE OPPORTUNITIES FOR LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT INHERENT IN UNIFICATION OF OUR LARGEST COURT MAKE THE PROSPECT AN EXCITING ONE. WE ALSO ANTICIPATE KERN COUNTY'S REEVALUATION OF THE BENEFITS OF UNIFICATION IN LIGHT OF THE EXPERIENCE OF OTHER COUNTIES. OUR SYSTEM IS NOT A STATIC ENTITY, AND WE MUST STAND READY FOR CHANGE AND BE WILLING TO EMBRACE IT.

REDUCING THE TRIAL COURTS FROM TWO LEVELS TO ONE IS ONLY THE LATEST IN A LONG PROGRESSION OF CONSTITUTIONAL MODIFICATIONS THAT SIMPLIFIED A ONCE-MULTI-TIERED SYSTEM OF COURTS IN OUR STATE. THESE AND OTHER STRUCTURAL REFORMS HAVE BROUGHT IMPROVED SERVICE TO THE PUBLIC AND SAVINGS TO THE TAXPAYERS OF CALIFORNIA.

WE ARE PRESENTLY IN THE MIDDLE OF A TWO-YEAR LEGISLATIVE TERM. TWO MEASURES THAT WE HAD HOPED TO SEE IN PLACE FOR JANUARY 2000 DID NOT MAKE THE DEADLINE, ALTHOUGH THEY REMAIN ON THE AGENDA OF THE LEGISLATIVE AND EXECUTIVE BRANCHES - AND CERTAINLY ON THE JUDICIAL BRANCH'S AGENDA - FOR NEXT YEAR.

MUCH NEEDED JUDGESHIPS HAVE NOT YET BEEN ENACTED DURING THIS SESSION - APPARENTLY THEIR CREATION WAS NOT OPPOSED, NOR WAS IT SUGGESTED THAT THEY WERE UNNECESSARY. NEVERTHELESS, DESPITE OUR BEST EFFORTS, WE SIMPLY COULD NOT ELEVATE THIS SUBJECT HIGH ENOUGH ON THE RADAR SCREENS OF OUR SISTER BRANCHES. WE WILL CONTINUE OUR EFFORTS NEXT YEAR, HOPEFULLY WITH YOUR ASSISTANCE - OUR SYSTEM MUST HAVE MORE JUDGES TO ADEQUATELY HANDLE THE INCREASED WORKLOAD OF THE COURTS.

JURY REFORM CONTINUES TO BE A PERSONAL PRIORITY FOR ME AND ONE THAT THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL HAS EXPENDED GREAT EFFORT TO ADVANCE. FOR DECADES, NATIONAL AND STATEWIDE SURVEYS HAVE REFLECTED A DISTRESSING LACK OF CONFIDENCE IN THE COURT SYSTEM. FOR MANY CITIZENS, JURY DUTY REPRESENTS THE PRIMARY POINT OF CONTACT WITH THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM. ALL TOO OFTEN, PROSPECTIVE JURORS HAVE COME TO TREAT JUROR SUMMONSES LIKE ANOTHER PIECE OF JUNK MAIL - AND THOSE WHO DO RESPOND OFTEN FIND THEMSELVES TREATED WITH WHAT SEEMS TO BE LITTLE RESPECT FOR THEIR TIME AND CONTRIBUTION.

WE HAVE BEEN SEEKING A VARIETY OF SOLUTIONS. THANKS TO OUR SISTER BRANCHES, THE FIRST MAJOR REFORM TAKES EFFECT JANUARY 1, 2000: THE ONE DAY, ONE TRIAL SYSTEM, UNDER WHICH JURORS ARE CALLED FOR SERVICE NO MORE THAN ONE DAY AT A TIME, AND IF NOT SELECTED FOR A JURY, SEE THEIR OBLIGATION DISCHARGED FOR THE YEAR. COURTS THAT HAVE BEGUN UTILIZING THIS SYSTEM REPORT INCREASED RATES OF RESPONSE AND INCREASED JUROR SATISFACTION. OUR ATTEMPTS TO OBTAIN FUNDING FOR AT LEAST A MODEST INCREASE FROM THE $5 A DAY WE PRESENTLY PAY JURORS NOW - THE LOWEST RATE IN THE NATION, BY THE WAY - HAVE THUS FAR SUCCEEDED IN WINNING PASSAGE IN ONE HOUSE OF THE LEGISLATURE. WE WILL BE BACK AGAIN NEXT YEAR, PUSHING TO GET THIS BILL TO THE GOVERNOR'S DESK.

COURT/COMMUNITY OUTREACH - ALONG WITH THE OTHER MEASURES I HAVE MENTIONED - HAS BEEN ANOTHER MAJOR INITIATIVE OF THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL. THE COUNCIL IS THE CONSTITUTIONALLY CREATED ENTITY CHARGED WITH SETTING POLICY FOR THE STATEWIDE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE, WHICH, AS CHIEF JUSTICE, I CHAIR. THE COUNCIL, AND ITS STAFF ARM, THE ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS, VERY ABLY LED BY ITS DIRECTOR, BILL VICKREY, HAVE BEEN CRITICAL PARTICIPANTS IN PROMOTING THESE VARIOUS MEASURES.

THE COUNCIL'S COURT COMMUNITY TASK FORCE HAS IDENTIFIED WAYS FOR THE COURTS AND THE COMMUNITY TO INTERACT PRODUCTIVELY. A STANDARD OF JUDICIAL ADMINISTRATION HAS BEEN ADOPTED URGING JUDGES TO GET INVOLVED WITH THEIR COMMUNITIES. COURTS ACROSS THE STATE ARE FOCUSING ON THE COUNCIL'S KEY PRIORITY: IMPROVING ACCESS TO THE COURT FOR ALL USERS. EXAMPLES INCLUDE EXPERIMENTS WITH USER-FRIENDLY KIOSKS AND LIMITED ASSISTANCE TO PRO PER LITIGANTS, PARTICULARLY IN FAMILY LAW MATTERS.

THIS YEAR'S CREATION OF THE $10 MILLION EQUAL ACCESS FUND AIMED AT ASSISTING THOSE WHO OTHERWISE MIGHT BE DENIED MEANINGFUL ACCESS TO THE COURT IS ANOTHER STEP IN THIS DIRECTION. THE FUNDS WILL BE DISTRIBUTED BY THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL TO LEGAL SERVICES PROVIDERS THROUGH THE STATE BAR'S LEGAL SERVICES TRUST FUND COMMITTEE, AND THE BAR AND THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL ALREADY HAVE JOINTLY APPROVED A PLAN FOR ADMINISTERING THE FUNDS.

OUR OBLIGATION IS TO RESPOND TO EVERY SEGMENT OF THE COMMUNITY WE SERVE. ACCORDINGLY, ANOTHER COUNCIL TASK FORCE IS WRITING NEW JURY INSTRUCTIONS AIMED AT PRODUCING MORE EASILY COMPREHENSIBLE LANGUAGE TO ASSIST JURORS IN DISCHARGING THEIR OBLIGATIONS. MEANWHILE, A COMPLEX LITIGATION PILOT PROJECT SOON WILL BE UNDERWAY TO STUDY WAYS IN WHICH COURTS CAN MORE EFFECTIVELY MEET THE SPECIAL ISSUES POSED BY COMPLEX CASES. AND AN ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION PILOT PROJECT HAS BEEN AUTHORIZED THROUGH THE MODERNIZATION FUND - 2 URBAN AND 2 RURAL COUNTIES WILL BE SELECTED BY THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL TO TAKE PART IN THE EXPERIMENT - WITH COSTS PAID BY THE STATE AND NOT THE PARTIES. IN A SIMILAR VEIN, A JUDICIAL COUNCIL TASK FORCE HAS BEEN STUDYING THE SYSTEM'S ABILITY TO ATTRACT AND RETAIN WELL QUALIFIED LAWYERS ON THE BENCH, AND REVIEWING - AND CIRCULATING FOR COMMENT - PROPOSALS PERTAINING TO PRIVATE JUDGING AND ITS IMPACT ON THE JUSTICE SYSTEM.

I STARTED TODAY BY SPEAKING ABOUT CHANGE - AND ALTHOUGH I MAY HAVE WANDERED A BIT FROM THAT THEME, I HAVE NOT STRAYED VERY FAR FROM IT. THERE ARE CHANGES IN THE BAR'S OPERATIONS, CHANGES IN HOW COURTS ARE OPERATING, AND CHANGES IN ATTITUDES ABOUT COURTS - AND BY COURTS.

THERE IS VAST CHANGE ALREADY UNDERWAY IN OUR JUDICIAL SYSTEM AND IN OUR SOCIETY - AND MUCH MORE THAT LIES AHEAD. AS ACTIVE MEMBERS OF THE BAR, THERE IS A VITAL PART FOR YOU TO PLAY IN THAT PROCESS. THE ROLE OF THE LAWYER AS PUBLIC CITIZEN IS DESCRIBED IN THE ABA'S MODEL RULES AS FOLLOWS: "AS A PUBLIC CITIZEN, A LAWYER SHOULD SEEK IMPROVEMENT OF THE LAW, THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE AND THE QUALITY OF SERVICE RENDERED BY THE LEGAL PROFESSION."

BACK TO THAT HISTORIAN - IT IS NOT TOO EARLY TO TELL THAT THE MANY CHALLENGES THAT HAVE BEEN HEAPED UPON OUR SYSTEM HAVE RESULTED IN A PERIOD OF GREAT CREATIVITY AND OPENNESS TO NEW IDEAS. IT IS NOT TOO EARLY TO TELL THAT TIMES OF TURBULENCE MAY PROVIDE THE BEST OPPORTUNITIES TO MAKE IMPORTANT CHANGES. AND IT DEFINITELY IS NOT TOO EARLY TO TELL THAT CHANGE IS NOW THE STATUS QUO - AND THAT THE MAJOR CHALLENGE LIES IN HOW WE GUIDE THE PROCESS OF CHANGE.

I LOOK FORWARD TO CONTINUING TO WORK WITH ALL OF YOU AS THE BENCH AND BAR STRIVE TOGETHER TO IMPROVE THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE FOR THE PEOPLE OF CALIFORNIA. THANK YOU FOR PROVIDING ME WITH THIS OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK TO YOU TODAY.

    *     *     *     *

RONALD M. GEORGE
CHIEF JUSTICE OF CALIFORNIA

Site Map | Careers | Contact Us | Accessibility | Public Access to Records | Terms of Use | Privacy