California Chief Justice has a lot to say

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  An article in today’s California Progress Report summarizes yesterday’s State of the Judiciary Address by the state’s top judge, Ronald M. George, and is aptly headlined, California’s Chief Justice Had a Lot to Say (Feb. 27, 2007) [full text of the Address, dated Feb. 26, 2007]  CJ George specifically asks for 150 new judgeships (over the next three years), massive building/renovation projects, higher salaries for judges and staff, signifcantly more self-help funding and interpreters, and support for an independent judiciary.

Here are excerpts from CJ Ronald George’s 2007 annual address that are especially relevant to pro se litigants and the issue of full access to justice:

  • expect delays  “Last session, we proposed to you and the Governor a plan to create 150 new judgeships to alleviate the most acute needs in the state.
       
    “The reason is basic. Our shared focus on providing meaningful access to justice — and on employing various means to enable the court system to better meet the needs of our diverse population — all are aimed at the same goal: ensuring that individual litigants can have their matters fairly adjudicated. We can devise all sorts of innovative procedures to improve the way courts handle the disputes that litigants bring to the courts, but these measures will be meaningless if there is no judge to decide the cases.”
  •  questionDude  “But meaningful access for all Californians requires much more. . . . The number of self-represented litigants continues to increase, and their needs will, in my opinion, pose the single most challenging issue for the courts in the coming decade. In some counties litigants appear without an attorney in 85 to 90% of family law and landlord/tenant matters. The costs to the judicial system and to the public are high — impairing the ability of self-represented litigants to effectively vindicate their rights, undermining the ability of courts to efficiently process heavy caseloads, and eroding the public’s confidence in our judicial system.”Self-help services provided at courthouses and other locations and on the judicial branch’s website, augmented by legal aid and pro bono contributions by lawyers, are making a difference. But these activities are far from sufficient to meet the urgent needs of unrepresented litigants.”

Beneath the fold, you will find excerpts on “Civil Gideon rights,” the need for interpreters, and the success of the JusticeCorps, along with information about JusticeCorps.

  • ScalesRichPoor [“Civil Gideon”] “[S]ome cases simply are too complex for self-representation, or for particular litigants who are unable to navigate the legal process because of language or educational difficulties.             At our request, the Governor has proposed $5 million in this year’s budget for a pilot program to make legal representation available in a limited number of civil cases when the judge determines critical rights and issues are at stake. These include child custody matters, domestic violence, probate, housing and other matters with outcomes that affect basic rights. Three counties, one large, one medium, and one small, will be selected for the initial study. I can tell you that counties from every part of the state are vying to take part in this program. I strongly urge you to take the first steps to answer these pressing needs.”
  • black check “Moreover, Last year, because of funding concerns, resources were withheld from a bill to provide interpreter services in critical civil proceedings. There can be no access to justice for one who cannot understand the proceedings. Information and forms increasingly are available in Spanish and other languages in courthouses and on the Judicial Council’s award-winning self-help website, but the need for interpreter services in the courtroom remains acute.         Meeting these needs will not be easy. There are numerous challenges, including the inadequate supply of qualified and certified court interpreters that we are working to supplement. But we must cope with the reality that every year more than 100 languages are spoken in California’s courts, sometimes interpreted by the young children of non-English-speaking parties.”  
  • JusticeCorpsLogo “No one approach to ensuring justice for all will answer every need. We also are expanding the JusticeCorps. This program trains college students to work as assistants in court-based self-help legal access centers.  These students provide a unique source of assistance. Last year, the second class of JusticeCorps members in Los Angeles spoke 24 different languages and helped make it possible for self-help centers there to serve more than 122,000 persons. The response from those they help and from the courts in which they are providing assistance has been uniformly enthusiastic.”

JusticeCorpLogoN  Click to learn more about the California JusticeCorps program (you will find, for example, a public service announcement in video and transcript form, plus contact information and news).  The program is funded through an AmeriCoprs grant. Here is information from the JusticeCorps About page:
 
About the California JusticeCorps Program

What Is JusticeCorps?

The JusticeCorps program presents an innovative approach to solving one of the more pressing issues faced by courts around the country today: providing equal access to justice. JusticeCorps recruits and trains 100 diverse university students annually to augment overburdened court and legal aid staff who are assisting self-represented litigants in court-based self-help programs in select locations throughout California. These highly motivated and well-trained students provide in-depth and individualized services to self-represented litigants, often in their own languages.

Parties are given clear information and options, and then connected quickly to the right resources. Litigants are assisted in completing appropriate and accurate pleadings, written orders, and judgments under attorney supervision and, in the process, provided with a better understanding of the court system.  

JusticeCorps was first launched as a pilot program in Los Angeles County in 2004. One hundred volunteers were trained and placed in 10 legal self-help centers and at the county small claims advisor’s office. JusticeCorps members commit to serving 300 hours in the self-help centers and receive approximately 30 hours of training as well as a $1,000 education award when they complete the program. Visit the news section to see a summary of the program’s second year accomplishments. Based on the success of the Los Angeles pilot, the JusticeCorps Program expanded to the San Francisco Bay Area in fall 2006.

2 Comments

  1. OGhoshal

    February 27, 2007 @ 4:40 pm

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    David,
    Thanks for highlighting the work of some of my fellow AmeriCorps Members. JusticeCorps is an exciting development in the link between our Nation’s community service desires and legal needs. Although we currently lack the funding and admnistrative capcity to run the program through Montana Legal Service Association, we have explored funding through the Courts System and some other legal community stakeholders. I’m glad to hear that the program’s success is appreciated by the California Courts and their litigants.

  2. Bonnie Russell

    February 28, 2007 @ 12:01 pm

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    Oh Please. In the area of Family’s California’s top jurist doesn’t know squat, not to put too fine a point on it. I’m sure he’s a nice man but please. Last year he awarded the Benjamin Arana ACCESS to Justice award (for the poor) to LA judge Aviva Bobb.

    Keeping in mind its ACCESS to justice, it was Judge Bobb who denied a little girl her voice in Family Court when the child expressed fears of her father. Judge Bobb didn’t want to hear her. So the child’s mother suggested a letter. After the father killed his daughter then himself, the Court’s spokesperson Blamed the little girl for writing what the court thought was a “contrived” letter.

    Yes, they blamed the now dead Eleven year old for not writing a better letter.

    And ask Judge George why child molestors are still on the bench. For details see http://www.FamilyLawCourts.com/judging.html

    Chief Justice Ronald George seems like a nice enough man, but so completely clueless in this area. Which makes sense. His lifetime has been spent working for the State and thus has only been listening to state employees. So the man had no chance to actually learn how truly bad the Family Court system is.

    Then of course, the one court most often used by the public, and for the longest period of time, isn’t covered by media, so good thing for the internet. Now it’s even possible to learn how profitable for the police, domestic violence is.
    (see the domestic violence section of the site) and by the way, can anyone guess why reporters call “murder” “domestic violence?”

    It’s all about the non-profits. Oh yes, and they don’t work either.

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