Video: State of the Judiciary Address

for release

Contact: Lynn Holton, Public Information Officer, 415-865-7726

March 20, 2012

"Fresh approach" to governing the California Courts


Good afternoon, it's an honor to be with you this afternoon. Thank you, Speaker Perez, thank you President pro tem Steinberg for the opportunity to deliver my inaugural state of the judiciary. First, I need to thank my colleagues on the Supreme Court who welcomed me warmly and graciously. I had much to learn, and still do, and you are superb teachers. I was sorry that Justice Moreno left but the addition of Justice Liu has been excellent to our bench.

I am pleased that my colleagues from the court of appeal, the superior court, the Judicial Council, and the lawyers from the State Bar–Bench Bar Coalition, Open Courts Coalition and One Justice, and the directors from the Administrative Office of the Courts are also present.

Since this is my first opportunity to tell you about our great branch of justice, I hope you’ll indulge me a few personal non-traditional comments in an otherwise traditional address. I was raised about a half a mile from here in a home in an alley that was slated for redevelopment. The forced move and the forced sale of our home was our first experience in the justice system.

My mother went to court without an attorney to fight the action and she came back feeling disheartened and disrespected. What seemed like a crisis for us then was really a journey for me that brings me here. You see, not long after that my mother took me to hear the first Filipina lawyer in our parts, and that was Gloria Mejino Ochoa. And while Gloria spoke, my mother threw me the elbow jab and said, “you could do that too.” And I didn’t know what “that” was but I knew what Gloria was doing was important.

And in 1988, I had my first opportunity to step into this August chamber. Fresh from the district attorney's office, I came here with the privilege of working for Governor George Deukmejian, and I worked for him in two capacities. First, as his deputy legislative affairs secretary, and then later as one of the deputy legislative secretaries. In 1990, when he appointed me to the bench, I never thought I would return here. And then 21 years later after 14 years on the trial court, 6 years on the court of appeal and 14 months on the Supreme Court, and having come from an experience of three branches of government, I’m honored to be the leader of the judicial branch.

I’m the 28th Chief Justice of California. And there have been great chief justices before me. All of them had different issues in the history of their times. And all of them have had to fashion agendas so that the courts could best serve the public and perform our fundamental role in a democracy.

When I became Chief Justice, the entire state faced its third year of an unprecedented fiscal challenge caused by the economic downturn affecting the nation. This has had a particularly severe impact on all three branches of government and on the public we serve. I would like to spend the next few minutes telling you about our branch, our particular fiscal challenges, the changes, the triumphs and my vision. Our branch is as old as statehood, but in many ways it's only 15 years young. The structural reforms that you wisely and cooperatively legislated, starting in 1997 with branch funding and 2002 branch facilities, and in 1998 with the trial court unification and the help of voters, really transformed the branch. These structural reforms made the branch a more efficient system better able to serve the needs of the public.

We are the largest court system in the country. We are the best law trained judiciary in the world. We have 2,000 judicial officers and 20,000 court employees who serve at all three levels of court: 58 superior courts, 6 courts of appeal, and a Supreme Court. And we are far more than a collection of courts. As a body we have a constitutional policymaking body called the Judicial Council, our staff is the Administrative Office of the Courts or the AOC. The primary goal of the Judicial Council is to improve access, fairness and diversity.

I am so proud of the men and women who have dedicated their lives to the attainment of justice for others. And as you can see we are a huge complex organization, and we are undergoing tremendous transformation in part because of the fiscal crisis we all face, but also because of the natural and welcome process of change.

Now, more than ever, after four years of successive cuts to the judicial branch. The judicial branch is finding itself to be a safety net for a civil and democratic society. Yet as judges, we don't have any control over the kinds or types of cases we hear and the cruel irony is the fact that the forces that have caused our reductions are the same forces that are driving citizens to court more and more for help in evictions, debt collections and child support modifications.

As Californians lose their livelihood and as part of their dreams slip away, they rightly come to court seeking justice, protection and dignity. But courts are struggling to provide that. And the reason we are struggling is because we are 2.4% of the General Fund to provide justice to 38 million Californians. Because, since 2008, the judicial branch budget has been cut 24%. That means a $653 million baseline budget cut.

And at the same time, for the last two years, superior court filings have increased beyond 10 million.

At the same time, sadly, as courts are needed more our resources are going down. Across the state, courts are hanging “closed” signs on courtrooms and clerk's offices. Sadly, courts are considering additional layoffs and court closures as you've heard today from many presiding judges walking these halls. It's devastating on the hard working men and women in our courts. It's also dangerous.

I give you an example: In a small rural county, a woman sought a temporary restraining order against a physically and sexually abusive boyfriend—but because that county had reduced hours, because it couldn't operate to fit her schedule, she had to be turned away for the day. She spent the night in her car with her child rather than return home to her abuser. And there are stories like this throughout the branch.

The budget struggles of the branch have not gone unnoticed by the attorneys who practice in our courts. We have seen a remarkable and extraordinary effort by the Open Courts Coalition, State Bar, One Justice and the Bench-Bar Coalition who stand for restoration of justice. I applaud your efforts.

We have also seen the fiscal challenges obscure a greater problem that the judicial branch has had for some time. We have needed judgeships for many, many years. We have independent studies that document the need for more judges in California.

Why is this so? Because of the population boom in the Inland Empire and the Central Valley. We show we need more judges and we need them in family law. The Judicial Council is committed to closing the gap between the judges we have and the judges we need. But we know that resolve is insufficient; it's not enough. The judicial branch has to be adequately and consistently funded. The attorneys know too well the dangers of an under and unfunded judiciary. And so in order to keep the promise of justice alive in California, we ask that the judicial branch be fully funded.

But it's not our fiscal challenges alone that are driving the transformation of change in the judicial branch. Although I had the dubious distinction in my first year of experiencing the single largest cut ever to the judicial branch, my administration embraced branch history and branch potential. I bring a fresh approach to governance. That means new and different leadership, greater transparency, greater accountability, collaboration, communication and on-site handling of big issues.

One of the first things I did when I was in office, I surveyed all the judges. I asked them to anonymously tell me what is wrong with the judicial branch, what's wrong with governance and what recommendations do you have. I listened, I read every word, I made action lists. I sent those action lists to the right parties for action and we've made changes and we're continuing to make changes.

I appointed new leadership in Judicial Council. That remarkable new leadership turned around and made every Judicial Council meeting public. I invite you to attend either in person or electronically. That same new leadership, went up and down the state and attended regional meetings to meet with courts to exchange information. That same new leadership recently created a new liaison program where Judicial Council members are specifically assigned to different courts. Again to exchange information.

We are looking for a new Administrative Director of the Courts. We've launched a national search. The brochure is on our website. One of the first things I did in office was to appoint judges and others to take a comprehensive look at the role and responsibilities of the AOC. Do we need to cut and where? I expect that report soon.

And I emphasized collaboration and on-site, hands on oversight. I take two of our most important initiatives: our desperately needed court construction problem and CCMS. Judges and the committee on the court construction project have already cancelled certain projects in and are modifying others. And they'll come back with more information. As to CCMS first, I want to thank you for the pivotal role that you played in informing our decision on how to go forward with CCMS. The audit that you requested, that I received last year in the first few weeks of my administration, helped to inform us about how to go forward on oversight.

And we know now, we have a system that works. But we have a changed fiscal reality, a changed landscape, reduced resources and next week the Judicial Council will face the difficult options about how to go forward in this grim fiscal reality. It will be an open public meeting, and I invite you to attend and to observe. These changes have served us well. They're beginning to bear fruit and they are the process of a fresh approach. They are, however, our challenges and changes. But you can’t appreciate those really until you understand some of the characteristics or the dynamics of the judicial branch. Like the communities we serve, our courts are incredibly diverse in terms of size, geography, priorities, needs, legal culture and composition.

We have 451 facilities throughout the state. And communities as unique as Alpine, with 1,200 residents and two judges. And Los Angeles with 10 million people and five hundred judges. And on the Judicial Council, we are all concerned that the communities and the people in these diverse areas receive access to justice, that they have a right to and and that we have a duty and responsibility to provide.

Even our caseload is spectacularly diverse. We have cases where we have business litigants with national stature represented by large firms in complex civil litigation. We also have self-represented litigants fighting for the most basic human critical need. They share the same courts, they use the same resources, they have the same concerns and the same conflict only very diverse different types of cases.

And so critically, to balance this diversity, to make it work in our great diverse state we have a hybrid system. A hybrid system of local court control, with statewide rules, policies and programs. And we take this together to find a balance for our diverse needs. In order to find that balance, we need a strong independent inclusive impartial judiciary.

And we need a statewide platform so that all voices can come together to talk about our priorities and our needs and our scarce resources. Local courts and local judges are affected advocates for local needs. But the Judicial Council serves statewide needs. Much as the Legislature concerns itself with statewide broader issues of impact, and cities and counties concern themselves with local issues at home, so do the judiciary, so does our structure. And it's from this structure that we have some of our greatest innovations. This tension in this balance between local control and statewide administration has given us some of the best ideas this branch has seen in a decade.

From self-help kiosks, to complex civil litigation courts, to domestic violence courts, and mental health courts, and a mortgage fraud court, to even a protective order registry that protects victims of domestic violence and elder abuse built on the backbone or the structure of CCMS. All of those concepts started as grassroots concepts in your communities with your local leaders.

They came up to Judicial Council by percolating through the 38 different advisory committees that helps the Judicial Council. We have 38 advisory groups that are comprised of at least 400 judges, lawyers, subject matter experts who volunteer their time to advance the cause of justice by bringing us these kernels of ideas that blossom into rules and programs and best practices and policies. That is the dynamic of our branch. It's our strength. Sometimes it's our difficulty. But most of the time great things come from the tension that we have in balancing local court rule and statewide administration.

Long ago my mother planted the seed of her vision in me. I bring that to you today. I see a branch undergoing incredible transformation. Last year I traveled 30,000 miles to meet all of you and you did not disappoint. I heard from all of you about different ideas, different ways to go forward, different processes and it helped to advance us.

I am as optimistic now as I was 14 ago when I started, because we are in transformation. And it’s an exciting privilege to be with such talented dedicated people interested in advancing justice. And as we transform into the new normal, I have all of those voices from the 30,000 miles I traveled and I honor the past because I couldn't stand before you as the first minority and second female chief justice had it not been for your vision and your statewide structure that afforded me the opportunity to be here.

I honor the present with a fresh approach to governance as we positively work our way through our challenges. We may not work through our challenges the same way you work through yours, but we have no less devotion in doing so. And I want to take this moment to thank all of you who've been in that positive, constructive, honest dialogue about our branch. You community leaders, bar leaders, bench leaders, court leaders, stakeholders who in this discussion knew about our diversity in our scarce resources and still tried to find innovative ways to respond to our concerns.

I honor the future because I have eleven more years. And when I think about the future, I think about our resources and how we can use them wisely and I think about our youth. Recently I came across some very alarming statistics about school suspensions. In the last three years California schools suspension self-reported are over two million. And studies show that one suspension triples the likelihood of that youth having a juvenile justice contact in that year. A single suspension also doubles that youth’s chances of repeating the grade and those two factors alone lead to high dropout rate for certain youth.

And we show nationally that this kind of discipline has a racially disparate affect. So you might ask, why does school discipline have anything to do with justice. I see a looming problem out there. if we aren't responsible for are youth, if we don't return them to school, if we don't keep them in school, if we don't help them become productive citizens, we are paving the way for entry not only to the juvenile justice system but the adult justice system. And we know we have collaborative restorative partnerships that we can bring to bridge to the schools so that we can accomplished much and we have work to do.

I am also excited to say that along with the State Bar, along with our branch, a retired federal judge and deans of certain law schools, we're working on a civics education initiative to help inform the youth. We hope to bring you in February 2013 an idea that we can all support about spreading civics education in California. See, I have many ideas but how we should go forward. But we must lead in the times we are given. And you and I have been given times of austerity and scarcity. To protect, maintain and preserve. We are stewards, we hold the public trust, we are placeholders, and I know I feel it's incumbent upon me as a steward and a placeholder to try to maintain the establishment of the judicial branch so it can perform its fundamental role in our democracy.

And I appreciate the efforts you have made along those lines to help us establish and preserve and maintain that.

Before I close, I wanted to reintroduce you again to some people who are very special to me because of the difficulties they faced with poverty and hardship and work in the fields and in internment camps but still have hope in their heart about the future of California. And that is my mother, Mary Cantil, and my in-laws, Jiro and Dorothy Sakauye.

I also thank my beloved husband for whom none of this could be possible for me. And our two teenage joyous daughters, Hana and Clare. Thank you for your support in making this available for me. I also feel gratitude in my heart for my predecessors who had such foresight, for all of you for your commitment and vision to access, fairness and diversity. And that we go together into this next era and transformation in partnership and preservation.

I thank you for the opportunity to address you. It’s been a tremendous honor.