California Bar Journal
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA - APRIL 2001
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


REGULARS

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Front Page - April 2001
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News / News Briefs
Bar foundation gives $50,000 grant to fund Conference of Delegates
Bar hit with $2.35 million fee demand in lawyer dues case
Bush administration ends ABA review of judicial candidates
Special publication in May Bar Journal
Davis appoints two public members to board of governors
George lauds five years of reform
2001 Annual Meeting will be held in Anaheim
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Trials Digest
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Legal Tech - FindLaw: Lawyers' home on the web
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Opinion
From the President - Butter a slice, not a full loaf
Is it wrong to copy a song?
Letters to the Editor
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Update on ethics
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MCLE Self-Study
Kids and the Law
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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You Need to Know
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Public Comment
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Discipline
Ethics Byte - 2 new rulings send litigators back to basics
Forgery, grand theft, fraud convictions lead to resignation
Attorney Discipline
George lauds five years of reform
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Sweeping structural changes in the California courts "have resulted in innovations focused on improving service to the public at a rate unsurpassed at any time in our state's history," Chief Justice Ronald M. George told the legislature last month.

In his annual State of the Judiciary message March 20, George traced major reforms in recent years, as he prepared to mark his fifth year in office May 1.

Ronald M. George"I am pleased to report that with the tools that the legislative and executive branches and the people of California have provided us, the courts have vastly transformed the delivery of services to the public," George told a joint session of the legislature.

California's top jurist reviewed the two major changes he said have affected the state's courts most dramatically: state funding of trial courts, implemented in 1998, and the unification of trial courts, which began with the passage of Proposition 220 the same year.

With state funding, trial courts moved away from fiscal uncertainty, and the concomitant threat of court closures, unfunded payrolls and curtailed public services, George said.

"Instead of bracing to react to emergencies and shortfalls beyond their control, our courts can look at current circumstances, project future needs and decide how best to meet them in orderly fashion," he  noted.

State funding also has allowed courts to develop uniform statewide budgeting structures to ensure that they provide public services.

George also said trial court unification, completed recently in all 58 counties, has had "profound effects" on services provided to the public.

Unification has enabled the courts to implement changes in a wide variety of areas, including drug and domestic violence courts; longer hours of service and new filing and payment procedures; expansion of services to more court locations; and improved court case management procedures that have cut backlogs, trimmed case disposition times and saved taxpayer dollars.

The chief justice also outlined the following reforms:

Jury innovation

The one-day-or-one-trial rule is "expanding rapidly throughout the state and clearly has improved our response," George said. Other changes were last year's increase in jury compensation and simplified jury instructions, now in draft form and under review.

Proposition 36

A new Judicial Council work group is developing procedures for effectively implementing this ballot initiative (substituting treatment for incarceration for drug offenses)  while keeping in mind local court needs.

Unrepresented litigants

George will name a task force to address the needs of unrepresented litigants. Courts already are addressing the problem with family law facilitators, family law information centers and self-help centers.

Equal Access Fund

In partnership with the State Bar's Legal Services Trust Fund, the Equal Access Fund supports 15 programs assisting 17 courts to address domestic violence, guardianships, family law, landlord/tenant matters and general civil assistance.

Complex litigation/alternative dispute resolution

George said he was pleased with the preliminary results of a pilot project now underway in six counties to provide specialized treatment for complex litigation, and efforts to expand alternative dispute resolution.

Technology

Improved technology is essential to further enhancing court services, George said. Four regional trial court groups have been created to work collaboratively on procurement, staffing and systems development in the trial courts.