State Bar of California California Bar Journal
Home Page Official Publication of the State Bar of California March2007
Top Headlines
Letters to the Editor
Karen J. Mathis
MCLE Self-Study
You Need to Know
Trials Digest
Contact CBJ

Bench-bar partnership remains strong

By Sheldon Sloan
President, State Bar of California

Sheldon Sloan

Just a few days ago, Chief Justice Ronald M. George delivered his insightful State of the Judiciary Address to a Joint Session of the California Legislature during the joint Bench-Bar Coalition Day in Sacramento. His address outlining our achievements of the past few years and the myriad problems we face in the future capped a full “Day in Sacramento” of strategic planning, outreach and personal visits to legislators by representatives of the bar and the courts.

This event is just one example of the strong partnership that has evolved between the bench and the bar over the course of the past 10 years – which, by no coincidence, is the length of time our Chief Justice has served as the head of our courts. Through the Chief’s tireless efforts, and the corresponding hard work of a series of State Bar Presidents who preceded me – Jim Herman, Tony Capozzi (who, along with former State Bar Vice President Joel Miliband, served as co-chair of the Bench-Bar Coalition), John Van de Kamp and Jim Heiting, we have forged a strong bond between the courts and the bar and have been able to take some tangible steps forward during a time in California of limited budgets, burgeoning population and an inestimable need for legal services.

Take, for instance, the long and arduous work that has gone into the critical shortage of judges in California. At the direction of the Chief Justice, the Judicial Council, the able Administrative Officer of the Courts, Bill Vickrey, my predecessors mentioned above, many individual board members, along with senior court and bar staff joined forces to keep this issue in the forefront. Eventually, legislation that ultimately became known as SB 56 wended its way through the legislative process and to the Governor for his signature. As a result, 50 new judgeships were created in the 2006 budget act, and we have a commitment to ongoing increases (50 more in 2007 and 50 in 2008) in the number of judgeships in California – increases which hopefully will benefit those areas of the state in which the number of new judgeships has not kept pace with growing population and crime.

Of course, we all know the numbers staring us in the face. The 2004 National Center for State Courts study showed clearly that California needs 355 new judges statewide. All of us working in this partnership realize that this challenge is formidable, that the critical judgeship shortage and all the other problems facing our courts are ongoing. We all know that there is not one single solution to resolve our problems, nor is there available the huge amount of money it will take to make our system of justice perfect.

Instead, because we all realize how difficult the situation is and understand the enormous challenges facing us, we have determined to put our heads together and look at possibilities from all angles. With the bench and the bar sitting at the same table and addressing the problems jointly, we have been able to make the public and the legislature aware of the acute shortage of judges and keep the problem in focus by highlighting the enormous impact to communities of backlogs in criminal and civil cases – an impact measured not just in financial costs, but also in a huge cost to individual rights.

We have had tremendous help from the legislature and from the Governor, and we intend to continue working with Sacramento to ensure that we keep moving forward and away from the brink of crisis we faced just one year ago.

Our work requires out-of-the-box thinking, from ways to obtaining the best-qualified judges to means of keeping our courthouse doors open to all Californians.

Next month, I plan to look more closely at the idea of mixed-use court- houses and how that and other innovative ideas might help us advance even further in meeting these tough challenges.

Contact Us Site Map Notices Privacy Policy
© 2024 The State Bar of California