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President John L. Mlnarik

 

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Top tags: Alison P. Buchanan  SCCBA  SCCBA’s Code of Professionalism 

When Shots Ring Out

Posted By John L. Mlnarik, Thursday, December 10, 2015

by John L. Mlnarik
The Mlnarik Law Group, Inc.
2015 SCCBA President

 

When shots ring out we pay attention. When lives are lost we ask questions. Yet when those around us ask for help we turn away. We live in fear of neighbors we do not know and have simply not even taken the time to become acquainted with. There are terrorists living among us and we have let them in, making necessary the protection of professional heroes at home and abroad. Instead of being everyday heroes ourselves by coming together in our neighborhoods and communities, we find ourselves without time in the day to do the things that truly matter.

Some of us assemble in small groups and complain about others. The media, telling a story that sells, places fear in us that only prevents us from coming together and getting to the source of our problems. As a result, the majority suffer while a few live in luxury, the likes of which the world has never seen.

The lessons parents are to teach become lost on their children as they struggle to provide the most basic needs or chase opportunities and money they believe will lead them to a better life. And as we watch the fabric of our lives unravel before us we wonder “What happened?” and “How did we get here?”

We voluntarily opted in and agreed to the terms without a second thought. The messages we are bombarded with have taken center stage. Can all of this really be about a disagreement involving which prophet’s teachings should be followed? Have we sold the future of our children for a cause that benefits few and, with technology, can now be perpetuated exponentially in a matter of minutes? 

NO. Not on our watch. And not for all the money in the world. With the freedoms we have and all the opportunity and education available we will do what we can with what we have and get back to the fundamentals of living, loving and caring for one another. We must do it, or we will perish, not at the hands of terrorists, but by the wounds we have inflicted upon ourselves. 

In 2015 the Santa Clara County Bar Association focused on fundamentals and evaluated all of its current programming. The board of directors took ownership of the task at hand and made decisions that were not popular, but that were best for our association, its members and lawyers everywhere.

We looked at what we have available, at the great need for the training and employment of new lawyers and our incubator program is taking shape with plans to have our inaugural class in 2016. The program will focus on the use of new technology and the formation of a virtual law office. There is an enormous need for legal help and lawyers trained in our incubator program will be ready to service those in need. 

Successful lawyers, just like successful people, are involved in their community, take time for the important things, get to know their neighbors and with any luck become little know stewards, leaving the place they came to better than they found it. In 2017 our association will celebrate 100 years of successful stewardship and we hope you will contact us to find out how you can get involved in our Centennial celebration. 

I pray that I have expressed in my actions this past year and that you already have come to know the following;

- It has been an honor to serve as your 2015 President and I look forward to continuing to work with all of you so that we may all rise together as one.

 

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'Tis the Season

Posted By John L. Mlnarik, Friday, November 13, 2015

by John L. Mlnarik
The Mlnarik Law Group, Inc.
2015 SCCBA President 

This time of year we are celebrating at many dinners and events. It is a time to honor those who have served us well and a time to give thanks for all we have.

For most of us it is also a time to close out the year and perhaps collect from clients who have not paid. As unappealing as collections may be, they are a reality all of us in private practice must face. Thankfully, the Santa Clara County Bar Association administers a Fee Arbitration Program and maintains a panel of experienced arbitrators.

For several decades, the SCCBA has been providing resources to attorneys and clients to help guide them through the process of resolving their fee disputes no matter how big or how small. The parties may decide to go to mediation before proceeding to arbitration and once at arbitration the parties can agree to make the arbitrator’s decision final.

As most attorneys are aware, notice to the client of arbitration of a fee dispute is statutorily mandated before the attorney can proceed to collect fees through litigation.  If the client seeks fee arbitration, the attorney is required to participate.  The attorney may initiate fee arbitration as well although the client is under no obligation to agree to the arbitration.  In that situation, the attorney may then proceed to file a complaint against the client seeking his/her outstanding attorney fees.  The SCCBA Fee Arbitration Program is easy for the client to navigate without the assistance of an attorney.  The filing fees for initiating an arbitration are reasonable and often lower than other private arbitration programs.

The process takes about three months and may be the quickest way to resolve a fee dispute. The matter could even settle before getting to arbitration as the parties take a better look at the positions they have been taking before submitting their disagreement to fee arbitration.

A list of frequently asked questions is available on the SCCBA  website at www.sccba.com along with links to forms and other useful documents.

As you celebrate this year be thankful for all the many wonderful blessings we have received. And if collections have you worried, have no fear, fee arbitration is here! 

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The Judiciary Committee of the SCCBA

Posted By Administration, Saturday, October 10, 2015

By Nora Frimann, Office of the City Attorney, City of San Jose, Judiciary Committee Co-Chair, 2015, and Henry Chuang, Law Offices of Peter N. Brewer, Judiciary Committee Co-Chair, 2015

The Santa Clara County Bar Association has administered a Judiciary Committee for many decades.  The Judiciary Committee was established to evaluate candidates being considered by the governor for appointment to the Santa Clara County Superior Court and the Sixth District Court of Appeal.  The Santa Clara County Bar Association enters into an agreement with each new governor’s administration agreeing to accept from the governor names of attorneys the governor is considering and agreeing to evaluate and rate each candidate in confidence.  The purpose of the governor engaging the local bar association to conduct these evaluations is to provide the governor with evaluations not tainted by political considerations and that provide the governor with a local perspective on appointments to the local bench.  To accomplish this purpose, the governor’s office requires that all aspects of the Judiciary Committee’s background interviews, candidate interview, evaluation and rating of the candidate remain completely confidential as between the Judiciary Committee and the Governor.  How the Judiciary Committee functions and process are not confidential.  Thus, below, is a description and insight into the SCCBA Judiciary Committee process.

The Judiciary Committee (“Committee”) is composed of twenty-five to thirty attorney members.  The Bar Association ensures that  Committee members represent the entire breadth of the legal community including in-house corporate counsel, attorneys at law firms of all sizes as well as solo practitioners district attorneys, public defenders and criminal defense counsel, and in-house government attorneys.  In addition to the wide-ranging practice areas, the Committee is composed of members who represent Santa Clara County's many ethnic and social groups.   The make-up of the Committee results in judicial candidate interviews that are wide-ranging and often challenging for the candidates.

Judicial candidates are referred to the Committee by the Governor’s office at the same time that the candidates are referred for review by theState Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation (“JNE”).  The Committee receives the candidate’s judicial application and writing sample, and undertakes background interviews based on the information in the application.   A sub-committee of typically four Committee members contact the applicant’s references, as well as current and former colleagues, opposing counsel, and community members.   The interviews focus on the candidate’s legal skills, intellect, demeanor, community activities, and any other insights the person being interviewed can provide with regard to the candidate’s fitness for a judicial appointment.   Any information considered adverse is shared with the candidate prior to the interview with the Committee.  

The Committee meets as a whole to interview judicial candidates.   The first part of the meeting is a review by the Committee members who participated in the background interviews.   In addition to a brief written report, they will share what they learned from their interviews and indicate anything that they thought was particularly significant.  For example, the background interviewers may report on particularly strong opinions, whether positive or negative, about a candidate’s intelligence, potential judicial demeanor, or other information that may help to inform the Committee’s impression of the candidate.   Following the background information, the candidate joins the Committee and is interviewed by at least a quorum of the Committee. .  Candidates can choose to start with an opening statement about their interest in an appointment and can also close the interview with a statement; some but not all candidates choose to make such statements.   Following the interview, the candidate is dismissed and the Committee discusses a variety of factors to be considered in reaching a decision about the qualifications of a candidate.

Ultimately, each Committee member by secret and anonymous ballot rates the candidate’s qualification for an appointment to the Santa Clara County Superior Court or Court of Appeals.   The ratings used are those required by the agreement with the governor which are the same ratings as used by the State Bar JNE:   Extremely well qualified; well qualified; qualified; and not qualified.   If a member’s rating is “not qualified,” that member must provide reasons for that vote or it is not considered in reporting the Committee’s assessment of the candidate.  A confidential letter is sent to the Governor about each candidate that summarizes the information learned through the background interviews, the candidate’s interview by the Committee, and the results of the ratings  on the candidate’s qualification.  This confidential letter is drafted by the co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee and is only shared with the governor.  It is not provided to the Committee or the candidate being evaluated.  The ratings by the Committee members are also confidential and shared only with the governor.  They are not provided to the candidate being evaluated.

The diverse background of the Committee  helps to assess applicants who are able to adjudicate complex intellectual property disputes, those who pioneer important programs such as the Parolee Reentry Court and who have appropriate judicial demeanor.  Due to the Committee's thorough vetting procedures and the governor’s respect for the Committee, almost every judicial appointment is not only vetted by JNE, but also by the Committee.  By thoroughly vetting each judicial applicant for the Santa Clara County Superior Court, the Committee is able to provide guidance to the governor in order to preserve Santa Clara County's strong bar/bench relationship and to inform the governor of the applicants who best meet Santa Clara's diverse judicial needs.  

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Reminder Days and the LGBT Civil Rights Movement

Posted By John L. Mlnarik, Tuesday, August 11, 2015

by John L. Mlnarik
The Mlnarik Law Group, Inc.
2015 SCCBA President

The Liberty bell stands for freedom from tyranny, slavery and oppression.  A Pennsylvania State Historic Marker commemorates the Reminder Days’ impact on the LGBT civil rights movement. Reminder Day was a series of early pickets  taking place each July 4 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia beginning in 1965 and were among the earliest LGBT demonstrations in the United States. The event was designed to inform and remind the American people that LGBT people did not enjoy basic civil rights protections.  This year, some 50 years later, the US Supreme Court rang the bell for freedom and legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.  Hear Dean Erwin Chemerinsky discuss this and many other cases before the Supreme Court at the SCCBA Annual Judges’ Night. Be sure to reserve your seat early.  Let’s hope it doesn’t take you as long to make the right decision to join us as it did SCOTUS.

As summer comes to an end and school starts, I am reminded of the flame that burns eternal in all of us. I traveled with family this summer to our nation’s capital and visited many of the same sights my parents took me to over 20 years ago. Unfortunately, my kids were about as interested in many of the wonderful things we saw as I was that July of 1993. Thankfully those truths and symbols of our freedom we journey to see are there for me to appreciate in a whole other way. Similarly, our bar association is here for attorneys who visit us frequently and those we may not have seen for a while. Go to http://www.sccba.com/ to discover all the great things available to you.

American or Santa Clara County Bar Association member, we have a lot to be thankful for. But we don’t have all of these things because we sat around waiting, wishing and hoping for change to happen. We enjoy what we have today because of the thoughtfulness, hard work and dedication of those who came before us.

Here’s a gentle reminder that our days are limited and are going by faster all the time. Leave your mark on history by getting involved today and help us leave this profession, our country, our world, if even just a little better than we found it!

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Your Professionalism Committee at Work

Posted By Alison P. Buchanan, Thursday, July 2, 2015

by Alison Buchanan
2015 Chair, SCCBA Professionalism Committee
Shareholder, Hoge Fenton Jones & Appel

 

The Santa Clara County Bar Association’s Professionalism Committee is charged with overseeing the SCCBA’s Center for Ethics & Professionalism, maintaining the SCCBA’s Code of Professionalism, reviewing and commenting on proposed State Bar formal ethics opinions, maintaining the Professionalism Forum & Blog, developing continuing legal education programs for civility and professionalism, and interacting with the local bench to ensure and improve civility and professionalism in the courtroom.  The Committee does important work and touches on issues that impact every area of practice.

 

As the 2015 Chair of the Professionalism Committee for the Santa Clara County Bar Association, I am pleased to report that the Professionalism Committee has had a productive year thus far.  We have undertaken several significant projects, and have also identified a few new exciting projects for the future.  They include:

  • Revisions to the SCCBA’s Code of Professionalism:  For many years, the SCCBA’s Code of Professionalism has provided guidance to our county’s lawyers and judges and has served as a model for many other courts and jurisdictions.  The SCCBA last updated the Code of Professionalism in 2007.  In anticipation of republishing the Code, it is time for us to evaluate whether any revisions are warranted.  Members of the Professionalism Committee and the bench, including Judges Julie Emede, Judge James Towery, Judge Brian Walsh, Lori Pegg, and former SCCBA President Clark Stone, have graciously agreed to review the Code of Professionalism for possible updates, and to ensure that the Code still reflects our legal community’s collective attitudes and values.  The Committee invites and encourages SCCBA members to submit comments and proposed revisions to the Code. 
  • State Bar’s Professional Rules Revision Commission: The Professionalism Committee is following closely (and will provide feedback regarding) the work and progress of the State Bar’s Second Commission for the Revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  As you know, last summer the California Supreme Court returned the prior Rules Revision Commission’s final package of sixty-seven revised rules, essentially abandoning the package of proposed revised rules. The Supreme Court instructed that the revised rules set minimum disciplinary standards only, and not include aspirational considerations.  The Supreme Court directed that a Second Commission be appointed and that the Second Commission complete its work by March 2017.  The State Bar’s website includes helpful information regarding public participation it the rules revision process and, specifically, the State Bar encourages members to interact with the Second Commission for the Revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
  • Should SCCBA Issue Formal Ethics Opinions?:  Less than a handful of county bar associations in California publish formal ethics opinions.  The SCCBA is not one of them, but should we be?  In the coming months, the SCCBA’s Professionalism Committee will appoint a small task force to evaluate the following questions: (1) should the SCCBA publish formal ethics opinions?; and (2) if so, what should that look like, logistically?  We are interested in your comments and feedback on this issue, so please feel free to communicate your thoughts to the SCCBA.

In addition, the State Bar’s Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct (COPRAC) has issued two tentatively approved formal ethics opinions for the 90-day public comment period.  First, COPRAC has tentatively approved Proposed Formal Opinion Interim No. 13-0005 for a 90-day public comment distribution.  The Opinion considers what duty a lawyer owes to current and former clients to refrain from disclosing potentially embarrassing or detrimental information about the client, including publicly available information the lawyer learned during the representation or relating to the representation.  The public comment period expires August 27, 2015, at 5:00 p.m.  Second, in June, COPRAC tentatively approved Proposed Formal Opinion Interim No. 12‑0007 for a 90-day public comment distribution.  This Opinion considers the ethical limitations on the statements the attorney may make to third parties when an attorney is engaged in negotiations on behalf of a client (including statements that may be considered “puffing” or posturing).  The public comment period expires September23, 2015, at 5:00 p.m.  For more information about these Opinions and how to submit comments, go to the State Bar’s public comments page.

 

This is just a small sampling of what the Professionalism Committee has been working on this year.  Hopefully, these items pique your interest and bolster your enthusiasm for the Committee’s work.   There are many ways you can ensure we maintain those high standards of professionalism for which our legal community known.   If you are interested in joining the Professionalism Committee, or if you are interested in any of the projects we are working on, please feel free to reach out to us.

 

 

Tags:  Alison P. Buchanan  SCCBA  SCCBA’s Code of Professionalism 

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This Love – Hate Relationship is Heating Up!

Posted By John L. Mlnarik, Monday, June 8, 2015

by John L. Mlnarik
The Mlnarik Law Group, Inc.
2015 SCCBA President

The California State Bar has put out for public comment a proposal to increase MCLE hours from 25 to 36 with a requirement that 12 of the hours be relevant to a member’s practice area. You have until June 25th to let your voice be heard. As your bar president and resident nerd who enjoys “going to class” I’m all for the increase but recognize that not all members share my sentiment.

A handful of my fellow lawyers wait until the last minute to satisfy the existing requirement when their reporting period rolls around every 36 months. Some even profess to be proud of their “accomplishment”.  Having gone nearly three years without doing ANYTHING they spend a few days or maybe even a week fitting everything in. Something tells me they won’t be too thrilled about the increase.

The majority of the lawyers I like to “hang” with have more than enough when the reporting period rolls around.  Many of us see one another at Bar functions, in meetings, conferences or conventions, what sometimes seems like every other day. I think it is safe to say that when it comes to MCLE hours some lawyers love them and some lawyers HATE them.

So to those who struggle I say, write a nasty letter as part of the public comment period to get things out of your system. Maybe you send it, maybe you don’t. But when you’re done come join us at the SCCBA for a brown bag. Because you’ve got to eat anyway and sometimes learning can be contagious.

Or an even better idea, given the new 12 hour relevancy requirement, might be to join a section and commit to involvement with its executive committee. Nothing sheds light on things more than seeing how much fun everyone has planning MCLE events.

Finally, if you love to hate the MCLE requirement and the state bar really is going to hold you to these new hours you’d better start keeping track of them. There’s no better way to do it than on the “my CLE manager” section of your profile on the SCCBA Website

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The Benefits of Membership

Posted By John L. Mlnarik, Thursday, May 14, 2015

by John L. Mlnarik
The Mlnarik Law Group, Inc.
2015 SCCBA President

Membership has its benefits and our Santa Clara County Bar Association is no exception. Whether you are conducting legal research on CaseMaker for free, viewing Judicial profiles, or tapping into the Center for Professionalism & Ethics, our members receive back in value many times over the price paid for admission.  Let’s have a look at a few things in greater detail and tell me if you agree by joining today!  


SECTIONS & COMMITTEES

From Bocce Ball to Speed Networking Events, SCCBA Sections and Committees hosted over 15 social and networking events for our members last year, in addition to 40 Seminars, 24 Brown Bags, and 5 Trainings. Membership in a Section and Committee also gives the member exclusive access to the section rosters and private group conversations.


FREE ONLINE LEGAL RESEARCH

SCCBA Members receive free online legal research from Casemaker. Members also receive a significant discount on the Casemaker Pro access. In fact, the amount saved on Casemaker Pro is more than equal to your annual SCCBA Membership!


DISCOUNTED CONTINUING EDUCATION SEMINARS & BROWN BAGS

SCCBA Members enjoy discounts on all CLE events, whether attending live or online. The 13 sections and 16 committees of the SCCBA sponsor over 60 CLE events each year, with every event designed to appeal to local interests, and presented by local experts.


ON-DEMAND CLE

SCCBA understands the time constraints on attorneys in today’s environment and has created a vast Online CLE library so members don’t need to spend their time in traffic to complete their MCLE. Find over 100 online seminars, podcasts, and live webcasts available on-demand, whenever and wherever you need it.  


PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT CLE MANAGER

Your SCCBA Member CLE Manager can help you organize and keep record of your CLEs, making your compliance period reporting as easy as a mouse click. Your CLE Manager automatically tracks all MCLE  credits you earn attending an SCCBA sponsored MCLE  program, and gives you online access to all of your certificates of credit and transcripts. Members may also manually enter any non-SCCBA MCLE programs, or upload the certificates of attendance for those programs, to add those credits to the overall transcript.


ACCESS TO JUDICIAL PROFILES

Through the SCCBA’s close relationship with the local judiciary, we are able to provide our members with exclusive access to information on the judges, written by the judges themselves. Learn the nuts and bolts of each courtroom before appearing in it.


JUDICIAL ASSESSMENT PROCEDURE

In 2014, the SCCBA implemented in conjunction with the Superior Court of Santa Clara County a Judicial Assessment Policy & Procedure.  Santa Clara County attorneys can use this procedure to provide any feedback, confidentially, regarding an individual judge or the court generally.  Attorneys can also use this procedure to get assistance resolving an issue with an individual judge.  The procedure is confidential unless the attorney agrees that the matter may be discussed with the involved judge.  It is a simple procedure:  simply complete the online Request for Action whether is it confidential feedback or whether you are requesting assistance with a particular issue.


CHAMPIONS OF PROFESSIONALISM

This year we inaugurated the Center for Ethics and Professionalism, the cornerstone of the SCCBA’s influence on the culture of the Santa Clara County legal community and courts. Local, practicing attorneys have their voices heard through the SCCBA Professionalism Committee’s review and submitted comments on each formal ethics opinion proposed by the State Bar.  The submitted comments are frequently utilized by the state in revising the proposed opinion before being published.


As you can see there are so many wonderful benefits available, but don’t take my word for it! Join today and see for yourself just how easy it is to accelerate your law practice with membership in the SCCBA.



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The Trial Court Encounters A Perfect Storm

Posted By Administration, Monday, April 13, 2015

by Hon. Risë Jones Pichon
Presiding Judge
Superior Court, Santa Clara County 

Editor’s Note:  The SCCBA encourages attorneys practicing in Santa Clara County and appearing in Santa Clara County Superior Courts to write their legislator and the Governor to encourage them to restore court funding to an appropriate level.   You can find your legislator’s contact information here.  You can find a sample letter to the Governor here. For more detailed information regarding the specifics of the impact on the inadequate funding to Santa Clara County Superior Court, you will find the Court’s Budget Snapshot here

Visions of the future have always guided the Court in its quest to achieve financial security.  Critical attention to economic forecasts and the fiscal condition of state and local economies has led to prudent decisions and planning on our part.  History will confirm that given the ability to manage the resources allocated to us, we will, as we have in the past, be able to weather the current downturn in the economy including recession and interest rate fluctuations, and revenue shortfalls.  

Our Court has been the beneficiary of the wisdom and foresight of the finest of court leaders who have acted with the understanding that economic challenges are inevitable.  With the leadership of our Chief Executive Officers, Chief Financial Officers and Presiding Judges, our Court has survived every financial crisis that we have encountered.  We can safely state that the Court’s budget has been managed wisely and frugally.  

Last year you read about an anticipated series of events that would significantly affect the Court’s budget, our ability to manage resources, and seriously impact Court operations.  We worked feverishly to change the course of events that would strip us of our ability to control our own financial destiny.  

With the exhaustion of all available resources, we were left hoping for a miracle to change what was to come.  The valiant efforts we made were not enough to change the direction of the financial storm about to strike.  As a result, our Court, for the first time was forced to take steps never before imagined. 

When the recession hit in 2008, every branch of government was affected.  Every agency and department dependent on the State’s General Fund took a financial hit.  For the Judiciary, this meant deep budget cuts statewide for six years resulting in the closure of 52 courthouses and 202 courtrooms.  The fallout from these cuts resulted in the reduction of staff by 19 percent.  In real terms, approximately 4,000 employees lost their jobs in the California Court system.  

Our Court was prepared to withstand these hits under the stewardship of our CEO and CFO whose sage advice resulted in savings to which we resorted each year to achieve a balanced budget.  While many courts were forced to lay off staff, including their Subordinate Judicial Officers and Court Reporters, close courtrooms and whole courthouses, our Court was able to survive with the use of savings.  To most, our ability to cope would appear to be a good thing.

However, it was the ability of individual courts to meet the financial challenges of the recession and the disparity of their responses to subsequent budget cuts over the next six years, which drew attention to the way funds were allocated statewide.  It brought to light a method of distribution that dates back to the funding of the courts by the counties, and which continued with the assumption by the State of the responsibility for growth in the costs to fund Trial Court operations.  With the enactment of the Trial Court Funding Act of 1997, the costs of operating the Trial Courts of California were consolidated at the state level for the purpose of solving the financial crisis faced by many of the smaller courts due to inadequate funding at the local county level.  

The fact that some courts had to resort to extreme measures, and others were able to get by with minor changes in the way business was done, attracted the attention of the Governor and Members of the Legislature.  Their response to the Judicial Council was that future new dollars would be conditioned on the court’s development of a plan to ensure a more equitable distribution of the funding allocated to the Judicial Branch from the State.  This resulted in the modification of the Workload-based Allocation and Funding Methodology.

The new formula developed for and approved by the Judicial Council for allocating funds to the courts of this state has now entered its second year.  It is called the Workload-based Allocation and Funding Methodology, referred to as WAFM.  It was adopted in 2013 by the Judicial Council, the policy-making body for the State’s Judicial Branch.  The Council is also responsible for managing the resources of the Judicial Branch.  

The WAFM formula is based on an estimate of funding needed by each court for non-judicial filings driven functions.  Any new money appropriated by the State for general Trial Court operations is allocated pursuant to WAFM.  An equal amount of historical funding is also allocated pursuant to WAFM.  The term historical funding means the funding received by each court as of fiscal year 2012-2013.  It is a five-year plan applied in increasing percentages over the five-year period.  The goal is that the courts in each of the 58 counties will receive full funding from the State; however, the current pace of State appropriations has limited funding at only 75 percent of their need.

As the percentage of recalculation of historic funding increased in the second fiscal year, 2013-2014, a new law which severely limited the Court’s ability to carry over its savings from one year to the next took effect.  We knew this was coming and worked for two years to convince the Legislature and the Governor of the disastrous effect this law would have on the Court’s ability to meet its financial obligations.  We did not prevail, and the law became effective June 30, 2014.  

For our Court, this meant that the savings we relied on to survive the recession and six years of cuts was now depleted, and our ability to meet financial challenges was compromised.  For the first time, the unthinkable had occurred.  We could not balance our budget, and we were compelled to take steps never before imagined.  

With no savings, we were forced to allow our staff vacancy rates to rise to morale crushing numbers.  We had to reduce business hours, reduce traffic night court sessions by 75 percent, and reduce small claims calendars by 25 percent.  We were compelled to close four criminal courtrooms, one civil courtroom, a juvenile dependency department, a juvenile justice department and two traffic/small claims courtrooms.  Staff vacancies are at 27 percent of our pre-recession levels in 2008, and we are allowing three Commissioner positions to remain vacant.  We also closed two remote self-help locations and the mobile self-help unit.  The list is not exhausted.  

The Governor has recommended $90.1 million in new funding for the trial courts in his proposed budget for fiscal year 2015-2016.  We are grateful for this additional funding.  However, if all remains the same, including the projected application of WAFM, our Court faces a further reduction of $600,000 this next fiscal year.

But we still have hope.  With the infusion of sufficient new money from the State, which has been reported to enjoy a 2 billion dollar surplus, the new funding methodology can work fairly and equitably for all courts despite the 1 percent restriction on reserves.  We will continue to advocate on our own behalf and on behalf of the entire Judicial Branch.  

On March 23, 2015, the Bench Bar Coalition consisting of the California Association of Local Bars, the State Bar of California, and the Judicial Council, met with Members of the Senate and the Assembly or their staff to provide information regarding the infusion of more funds for the courts.  I, along with Judge Brian Walsh and past SCCBA President Shannon Stein, traveled to Sacramento as members of this Coalition to participate in the Bench-Bar Coalition Day in Sacramento.  The purpose of the Day in Sacramento was to meet the new legislators and rekindle relationships with returning members.  In that one day, the Coalition managed to visit 80 legislative offices to convey information on the Judicial Branch’s legislative and budget priorities.  At the end of the day, we gathered in the Assembly Chambers to hear Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye deliver the State of the Judiciary Address to the Joint Session of the California Legislature.  A very positive sign was the attendance of Governor Jerry Brown at the reception that followed.  All Supreme Court Justices were also in attendance.

The Judiciary continues to take positive steps forward.  Statewide, courts strive to do more with less by implementing new and innovative programs and streamlining processes.  For example, the Judicial Council established the Commission on the Future of California’s Court System this past July.  A number of our Judicial Officers have been appointed by the Chief Justice to serve on this Commission.  They are Judges Thang Barrett, Le Jacqueline Duong, and Patricia Lucas.  Our Chief Executive Officer, David Yamasaki, has also been appointed to serve.  The purpose of this Commission is to study the way the courts operate and to identify obstacles presented by structure and statutory requirements which hinder our ability to be efficient, and to make recommendations to modernize court operations.

At the local level, our Judicial Officers have reached out to our local Legislators.  At our invitation, Assembly Members Mark Stone and Kansen Chu visited the Court.  We were thrilled to showcase our innovations and the successes we have achieved.  We have planned and will be hosting a Legislators Day with the Bench, where our local leaders will tour our courthouses, observe court proceedings, and walk through the new Family Justice Center currently under construction.  Afterward, they will listen to a panel discussion regarding the implementation of Proposition 47, followed by lunch with the Judicial Officers and open discussion.

To address the negative impact to our local court users, we have done the following:

For the increasingly long public service lines at Traffic Court, which resulted from staffing reductions, we have reassigned data entry staff on an interim basis to eliminate the huge backlog of citations.  This backlog caused the production of Courtesy Notices to be delayed, prompting members of the public to appear in court in lieu of submitting payments via U.S. mail.  The temporary reassignment of staff has reduced the backlog significantly; and as a result, we have noticed a steady decline in number of people appearing just to pay their traffic fine.  

We updated our website to allow individuals to make payments on their delinquent cases.  Previously, parties in this situation were required to appear in court to set up a payment schedule.  We also modified our website and the windows at the Traffic Court facility to permit the payment of traffic fines with all of the primary credit card entities.  Previously, these transactions were limited to only two different carriers.  These changes have produced significant results.  

We realize the value of investing in our future.  With the imposition of the 1 percent cap on reserves, the Court was forced to spend down our savings by June 30, 2014.  We chose to apply those savings to the acquisition of a new case management system, which will replace the two incompatible and antiquated systems currently in use for our civil and criminal functions.  With the rollout of the new system later this year, we anticipate significant savings with the elimination of redundant processes.  Our overworked staff will enjoy some relief from the many duties they have been asked to perform as a result increasing vacancy rates which is our last resort to balancing the budget.  The result will be a Court that operates more efficiently and effectively.

The convergence of the new funding allocation methodology and the 1 percent cap on reserves produced the “perfect storm” for the Santa Clara County Superior Court which could not have been foreseen and for which we could not have prepared.  We have been shaken, but our foundation remains.  It is the resilience of our Judicial Officers, our administration and support staff which will enable us to weather this storm and return to solid ground while keeping a watchful eye on the economic horizon.   

 

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Accelerate: What’s Your Strategy?

Posted By John L. Mlnarik, Tuesday, March 10, 2015


by 
John L. Mlnarik
The Mlnarik Law Group, Inc.
2015 SCCBA President

Some folks accelerate particles. Others accelerate learning. We at the Santa Clara County Bar Association have been accelerating the legal careers of attorneys for nearly 100 years.  But it isn’t an exact science.  And you cannot just pay your dues, sit back and expect results.

The framers of our constitution put in place a framework to allow individuals and businesses to thrive, but mere presence within the territory of the forum does not guarantee results.  Though, I think we can all agree, it does increase your chances.  Similarly, members of the SCCBA have a greater chance of success. A guarantee of success is not included.

Membership in our county bar association is a commitment to our legal community and should not be taken for granted.  Each of us became lawyers because of our determination and hard work but none of it would have been possible if it weren’t for those who came before us. Volunteering, taking a leadership role and giving back are all ways we can ensure that it is here for generations to come and that we leave this place better than we found it.

So if you are a member and haven’t been involved in what is going on, what are you waiting for? In the words of your parents I say “What is it? Do you want me to draw you a picture? Here’s one that hangs next to my desk from my daughter Paulina (all rights reserved :) ). 

Do you need an invitation?

I hereby cordially invite you to get involved in the Santa Clara County Bar Association and use your talents for the betterment of yourself and your legal community.

We need you. We need your passion. We need your excitement. We need your enthusiasm. And dare I say you need us. For our commitment to professionalism. For our insight into the practice. For our unending dedication to the success of our members.

Involvement in the SCCBA and the surrounding community is the single most important reason attorneys become a huge success. And they do it together. Not all alone by themselves in their office, but as a community. Committed to one another and taking responsibility for what they need more than anything else in the world, a strong, vibrant and growing community.  Without one who is going to need all of these lawyers?

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We Need You

Posted By John L. Mlnarik, Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Santa Clara County Bar Association needs you to join if you are not a member already and get acquainted with all the wonderful opportunities at the SCCBA.

Develop your practice by creating your public directory listing, joining the lawyer referral service or visiting our career center.

Members subscribe to our Code of Professionalism and are sure to keep their nose clean with access to our Center for Ethics and Professionalism.

Reference our on-line CLE 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so you have enough “recognition and elimination of bias” before your reporting period and manage all of your CLE with our new CLE Management feature.

With all you can do on-line you many never need to leave your home or office again, but if you like us virtually, you’re going to love us live and in person. Attending events at the bar office allows you to meet other members and often times local judges. If you aren’t good at remembering names don’t worry. Just cruise the member directory or judicial profiles after an event to bone up on the who’s who.

I don’t know about you, but I’m as busy as I’ve ever been and between running my office and raising three kids it isn’t always easy to get involved. Have a look at all our volunteer opportunities to see what excites you. My personal favorite is the High School Mock Trial Tournament.  If you haven’t volunteered as a scoring attorney this year get it on your to-do list for next year.

We’re not a rock band so we don’t have groupies but we do have a HUGE number of devoted supporters in our sections and committees. If you haven’t been involved in one of their executive committees you don’t know what you’re missing.

Many wonderful opportunities await you at the Santa Clara County Bar Association. I hope that you get involved knowing that you are needed and leave every meeting, seminar, event or function having that feeling returned to you many times over. I know I do.

If you are a member who feels the same way please reach out to others and spread the word.

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