Centralized funding of the California courts has opened opportunities for branchwide infrastructure improvements and collaborative advances in branch accountability and responsiveness
When ownership of court facilities passed from California counties to the state judicial branch, the branch inherited problems related to building adequacy, efficiency and safety. New opportunities also arose. As a result, the branch is using modern technology, collaborative building methods and economies of scale to create high-quality buildings across California. From Santa Ana to Quincy, courthouses have been built or renovated.
Development of a uniform statewide case management system is nearing completion, promising enhanced information-sharing among the courts and between the courts and the public, the executive branch and the federal courts. The Court Case Management System will connect the justice system with social services and other agencies to improve public safety.
Launched to help trial courts move from county stewardship to management by the judicial branch, provides uniform, consistent record keeping and reporting for the courts' financial and human resources functions. It increases the transparency of court business operations.
Major Web redesign projects are under way to make court sites easier to identify and navigate. The new Web designs will give the judicial branch a recognizable visual identity and will help meet the growing needs of the courts and public.
Support for the courts and compliance with their orders depend to a large degree on several broad factors: The courts must perform efficiently and reach fair results. And litigants must perceive that justice is being done. The Judicial Council and Administrative Office of the Courts sponsored a number of initiatives in 2008-2009 to achieve those goals. Two themes pervade them all: demystification of the judicial process so that people understand that it is working for them, and collaboration-both among courts and between courts and their communities-to crack problems that defy successful resolution through traditional adjudication. The studies and reports of these projects have been completed, and the implementation of recommendations is under way, affecting virtually every aspect of the courts' business.
The Procedural Fairness Initiative grew out of research, focus groups and survey findings, all pointing to the same conclusion: Public trust and confidence in the courts depend largely on a perception by litigants that they are treated fairly, regardless of whether they win or lose their cases. The Procedural Fairness Initiative encompasses judicial training and a variety of special programs that have been designed to enhance the public's experience in traffic courts and other high-volume courts.
In the face of multimillion-dollar campaigns launched by political and special interests against judges across the United States, the Commission for Impartial Courts was created to enhance the administration of justice and preserve the rule of law in California. The commission has explored campaign financing and conduct, judicial selection and retention, and public information and education.
When a deep backlog of criminal cases developed in Riverside County - a result of rapid population growth without a commensurate increase in judgeships - Chief Justice Ronald M. George assembled a strike force of experienced criminal law judges from across California to tackle the problem. They cracked the backlog. Concurrently, new case management procedures were devised to curb future backlogs.
After the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care documented a severely under-resourced foster care system, work began on implementing the commission's 79 recommendations for reform. The focus initially is on measures that fall entirely within the purview of the branch and on the creation of local commissions in collaboration with county child welfare agencies.
The Domestic Violence Practice and Procedure Task Force proposed 139 guidelines and practices to improve the way courts handle cases involving domestic violence allegations. Several recommendations address a need for better enforcement of laws designed to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic violence offenders. Now the task force has turned its focus toward implementation measures the can be effective without impacting budgets.
Drawing on the experiences of court users, judicial officers, court administrators, prosecutors, defense attorneys and probation officers - pointed to a need for better collaboration and communication. Recommendations that grew out of the assessment are being implemented with pilot projects and other measures.
The Task Force for Criminal Justice Collaboration on Mental Health Issues joins the three branches of government with criminal justice and mental health partners to seek ways of linking justice with treatment for mentally ill offenders. The goal is to help them live productively within the law.
The Elkins Family Law Task Force is charged with proposing reforms to help courts achieve efficiency while ensuring access to justice for court users.