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
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.
"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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.