Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Judicial Council Report: Courts Need More Resources, Less Politicization
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
California courts have become stronger and more effective in the past year, but still need more resources and less politicization, the Judicial Council of California said in its annual report.
The courts “have benefited from continued cooperation with, and assistance from, our sister branches of government, the executive branch and the Legislature,” Chief Justice Ronald M. George and Administrative Director of the Courts William Vickrey said in the introduction to “Building the Branch,” subtitled “Reviewing the Accomplishments of 2006,” released last week.
However, they said, the court system continues to face challenges in obtaining sufficient resources to perform its essential functions and ensuring that the judicial branch remains fair and impartial.
George and Vickrey said that despite the Legislature’s creation of 50 new judgeships in 2006—one of the highlights of the year—courts remain overburdened and an additional 100 judges are still urgently needed to ease the workload. They also said that Judges’ Retirement System II is a strong disincentive to attracting qualified candidates to the bench and requires improvement.
The pair also said that, although courts are working with counties to enhance the collection of fines, fees, and penalties to potentially increase revenues, the challenge of obtaining adequate resources to enable the courts to perform their essential function, “likely will never end.”
The council reported that trial court filings resumed their upward trend in Fiscal Year 2005-2006, growing by 2.5 percent and surpassing the 9 million mark for the first time since FY 1993-1994.
Another highlight of the year that the report listed was the first-ever gathering of over 300 state court leaders in San Francisco last November for a Summit of Judicial Leaders to explore recent developments in judicial elections and attacks against judges by political and special interests.
Referring to the summit, George and Vickrey promised to, “continue to explore methods to maintain a judicial branch that functions in accordance with the rule of law, and not in response to partisan or financial pressure.”
Other highlights of 2006 included the establishment of a Probate Conservatorship Task Force to improve case management; the creation of a Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care to develop recommendations for improving safety, permanence, well-being and fairness outcomes for children and families; and assurances by the legislative and executive branches to increase diversity in the pool of applicants for judicial appointments.
The council is the policymaking body of the California courts, the largest court system in the nation. Under the leadership of the chief justice and pursuant to the state Constitution, the council is responsible for ensuring the consistent, independent, impartial and accessible administration of justice.
The Administrative Office of the Courts carries out the council’s official actions.
The annual reports summarize progress and challenges in improving court administration and access to justice, highlight efforts to improve service, and describe key trends in caseloads and workloads.
The report is available online at http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/reference/documents/2007ar.pdf.
A companion volume, the Court Statistics Report, which provides detailed statistical caseload and workload trend data statewide and for each of the 58 counties, was released in July.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company