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The Drought is over for the State but not for Our Local Court

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 9, 2017

Guest Message By
Hon. Patricia Lucas
Presiding Judge
Superior Court of California,
County of Santa Clara

 

The hills are finally green after a long drought, and state revenues have been back up for some time now following the great recession.  Why, then, does Santa Clara Superior Court continue to be woefully underfunded?

As you are probably aware, since 2010 over $1 billion has been taken out of the judicial branch budget.  Furthermore, as Judge Pichon wrote during her term as presiding judge, a limit of 1% has been imposed on the reserves a trial court can carry from one year to the next, drastically limiting the options a court has to deal with budget cuts year to year.  The Governor’s January proposal for the 2017-18 budget is essentially flat for the judicial branch, and when the Workload Allocation Funding Methodology (WAFM) formula is applied to a flat budget, that means a further cut for Santa Clara—of about $1 million.

Compared to about ten years ago, our Court’s budget is roughly three-quarters of what it was—and that does not take into account that things are more expensive than they were then. Could you buy the same amount of housing, food, and living expenses with 75% of unadjusted dollars compared to ten years ago?  The Court has about two-thirds of the staffing we had ten years ago.  Could your law office get the same amount of work done if you had only two employees when you used to have three?

No one questions that year after year of under funding has impaired our ability to serve the public in the way our judicial officers want to serve.  These circumstances are especially disappointing given our Court’s long history of excellence and innovation.  When the court system was funded by the counties, we were fortunate that our local county government was so firmly committed to ensuring a high quality of public service in our local courts.  Santa Clara was out in front consistently with innovations in family and juvenile court operations and in implementing collaborative courts that helped people turn their lives around.

Although we are proud to be the only Bay Area court that successfully avoided laying off employees during the great recession, we unfortunately had to increase our employee vacancy rate as one means to address the under funding.  And while we have tried for years to do 100% with far less, even our hard-working and devoted team cannot do it all.  We are disappointed not to be able to give our public the timely service they have a right to expect.

Nevertheless, there are some bright spots that give us reason to hope that we can maintain and improve service levels despite further budget cuts.  First, our employees are indeed devoted and hard-working, and for their tireless and cheerful work we are so grateful.  Next, we have a dynamic new Court Executive Officer in Rebecca Fleming, an experienced court administrator we were able to lure from Stanislaus Superior Court, who is well connected in statewide groups and well respected by employees and managers as well as judges.  Rebecca has new ideas and new energy, and a wonderful down-to-earth mode of communication.  Finally, we are fortunate that our friends in county government remain so devoted to our local justice system and are willing to collaborate with the Court in creative ways—all to the benefit of the same public we all serve. 

What can SCCBA and its members do to help?  There are several ways.  First, please continue to be patient and courteous in your interactions with our employees.   We know that your inquiries arise from the duty you owe to your clients, but we all have the same goal of trying to process cases as expeditiously as possible given our staffing constraints.  Second, please continue to support our Court operations with the generous gift of your time as temporary judges in family court, the civil and probate divisions, small claims and traffic court.  We literally could not do it without you, and the judges are so grateful for the services you provide directly to members of the public and, when they are represented, to their counsel. 

Finally, please contact your legislators and join our judges in advocating for adequate trial court funding.   The voice of the bar is a strong one, and your perspective will be important to your representatives in Sacramento.  The judicial branch represents barely more than one percent of the general fund expense of our state—which means that the under funding could be corrected with a minimal effect on the overall state budget.  Moreover, California’s current funding level for the judicial branch is by percentage among the very lowest nationwide when compared with other states where the judicial branch is funded by state monies rather than local funds.  Californians deserve better.  Many current members of the legislature are not law-trained and may not appreciate that the trial courts are the social service agency of last resort for many of the state’s most vulnerable: abused and neglected children, families in the midst of emotional and financial upheaval, victims of domestic violence seeking protection, veterans, the elderly, those who are addicted or mentally ill, and job seekers whose employment depends on clearance of criminal records.  Please use your voice to help our legislators understand the importance of providing a justice system that has the resources to serve and protect all those who must seek justice. 

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2017: A year of Celebration and Implementation Off to a Great Start

Posted By Kate Wilson, Tuesday, February 21, 2017

By Kate Wilson

Attorney at law

2017 SCCBA President

 

On January 18, the Santa Clara County Bar Association celebrated our Centennial Kickoff and Installation Ceremony at the new Family Justice Center Courthouse. The event was a great success as we packed the beautiful 8th Floor Judicial Conference Room with our members and our local bench. The night was a terrific opportunity to build new relationships and to re-connect and catch-up with friends and colleagues who we may not get to see as often as we may like.  I would like to especially thank Judge Patricia Lucas for administering the oaths of office for our 2017 SCCBA leadership, Judge Julie Emede for sharing some of our rich history and achievements as an association and as a legal community over the past 100 years, and Jim McManis for regaling us with great stories and anecdotes of practicing law in Santa Clara County over the past 50 years.  I would also like to extend a special thank you to the Santa Clara County Superior Court and its staff for allowing us to host our event at the new Family Justice Center Courthouse, the SCCBA staff for all of the hard work and effort devoted to making the evening a success and, of course, our SCCBA Centennial Gold Sponsors, who were also the sponsors of the Kickoff Celebration: Fenwick & West LLP, Greenfield, Hoge Fenton, and Pillsbury.     

As I mentioned in last month’s column and in my remarks during the Centennial Kickoff, 2017 marks a commemorative and important year for the Bar. During this year, we will look to our past to celebrate where we have come from and the achievements we have made over the past 100 years. And, we will look to the future to ensure that we continue to foster the outstanding legal community in Santa Clara County and inspire the next generation of attorneys. It will be a year of honoring the past and inspiring the future in all that we do.  

From an organizational standpoint, we continue to implement the strategic plan and recommendations developed by our Strategic Planning Committees and Boards over the past three years to ensure that the SCCBA will continue to thrive for the next 100 years. To that end, the association has already been hard at work this year. On January 26th, we held a Special Membership Meeting during which our membership approved proposed amendments to our SCCBA By-laws. In chief part, the approved amendments serve to re-organize our leadership structure in the association.  Under the new by-laws, the size of the Board of Trustees will be reduced, the size of the Executive Committee will be reduced and we will eliminate membership elections for uncontested trustee and officer positions and we will instead use an application process. These changes bring our organization into alignment with proven and successful leadership models for modern membership based organization. The revisions to the by-laws will be published shortly. Stay tuned to the SCCBA blog and our news feed for links to redline and clean versions of our amended by-laws. Thank you to all of our members who attended and participated in the Special Membership Meeting. 

The BOT and general Bar leadership also accomplished a significant amount in January. I had the pleasure of meeting and working with our new committee and section chairs at our new chair orientation and training. The committees and sections are off to a great start with new CLE and interesting programs already underway for our membership. And, all of our committees and sections will be working to weave our history from the last 100 years into each of their events throughout the year. I also had the pleasure of meeting and working with all of our new Trustees for 2017 at our new Trustee orientation and training. I continue to be impressed by the enthusiasm and ongoing commitment from all of our Trustees and leaders to making the SCCBA the best it can be. Finally, the BOT appointed Deputy District Attorney Michael Lee to serve as the association’s 2017 Secretary. We are pleased to welcome Michael as an officer of the association and we look forward to Michael’s implementation of his goal of serving as a champion of diversity within the Bar and throughout our legal community. 

With our celebrations and implementation off to a fast start, we must also work to inspire our future. Throughout my career and life, I often find the most inspiration in giving back and getting involved and believe that community involvement is essential to inspiring the future.  While your initial reaction may be that you do not have enough time to participate in volunteer or pro bono activities, ask yourself if you can afford not to do so. Without fail, every time I have volunteered my time to a project or organization in which I am interested, I have received far more than I have given. I consider myself privileged to call many of the people I have met through my community activities friends and mentors and they have proven to be invaluable resources for me. 

I challenge each of you to find a cause, activity and/or organization in which you are interested and get involved. Volunteer opportunities abound in our local communities and many non-profits, schools, business associations and a myriad of other organizations are excited to welcome attorneys into their volunteer ranks for the unique experiences, perspectives and analytical framework we can often bring to issues and problem solving. Within the Bar, we are always eager to welcome new members and our sections and committees have ample opportunities available for our members to get involved. If you haven’t already done so, consider joining a new section or committee this year, volunteering for the Santa Clara County High School Mock Trial Tournament or committing to the SCCBA Pro Bono Initiative. And, if you are a newer attorney, I encourage you to get involved in the SCCBA Barristers’ Committee and consider applying for the SCCBA Barristers’ Leadership Program.

I look forward to working and celebrating with each of you throughout this year. I hope to see you at a SCCBA event in the near future. Thank you again for your continued support of the SCCBA.

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2017: Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Posted By Kate Wilson, Tuesday, February 21, 2017

By Kate Wilson

Attorney at law

2017 SCCBA President

 

 


HAPPY NEW YEAR and thank you for your continuing support of the Santa Clara County Bar Association!!  2016 was an outstanding year for the SCCBA due, in significant part, to the leadership and hard work of our 2016 President, Matt Poppe, the Executive Committee, the Board of Trustees and, of course, the unwavering support and guidance of our CEO, Chris Burdick, and the association’s staff.  Many thanks to all of our 2016 SCCBA volunteers, leaders and staff for a job well done.

I am honored and excited to serve as your 2017 Santa Clara County Bar Association President while we celebrate our 100 year anniversary and we continue to pursue our mission of serving our members, improving the administration of justice and serving the public.  Having practiced almost my entire legal career in Santa Clara County, I am continually impressed by and appreciative of our unparalleled legal community and bench.  Throughout its 100 years, the SCCBA has worked tirelessly to promote and inspire a vibrant, diverse and highly professional community as well as to foster a strong working relationship with our local bench.  I look forward to continuing these rich traditions in 2017.

2017 will be an exciting year for the SCCBA focused on: (i) implementing the new strategic plan that has been carefully developed by the Board over the last few years to ensure that our association continues to thrive and serve our members and community for many years to come; and (ii) celebrating our centennial anniversary by recognizing our vast accomplishments and providing opportunities for our membership to come together and share their experiences while building new relationships.  We will also continue our longstanding commitment to outstanding professionalism in the practice of law in our county and to expanding that professionalism amongst new members and neighboring jurisdictions. Finally, I hope that each of us can work together to use the celebration of our centennial as an outreach opportunity to increase our membership and to solidify our ties to current members by raising awareness of the many benefits and opportunities the SCCBA now offers.

Each year, the SCCBA traditionally gives its President the opportunity to choose a President’s project or theme during his or her year in office.  In considering my options for this year’s theme, it seemed only fitting that it must be “honoring the past, inspiring the future,” the theme of our year-long centennial celebration.  As I reflected back on my own experiences as an attorney and within the SCCBA in preparation for 2017, I could not help but recall comments I made many years ago at a SCCBA Barrister of the Year celebration.  At that time, I noted that a few key elements or themes are instrumental in attorney development (for both newly minted attorneys and experienced attorneys alike) and our legal community.  Those key elements or themes include: (i)Santa Clara County is a unique legal community that we must continue to foster; (ii) it takes a village to raise an attorney; and (iii) community involvement is essential.  It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same as I believe these themes remain consistent and critical as we honor our past and inspire our future.

The SCCBA will host its Centennial Kickoff and Installation Celebration on January 18, 2017 at the new Family Justice Center Courthouse in downtown San Jose from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm.  The celebration will include: the swearing in of the 2017 SCCBA Officers and Trustees by 2017 Presiding Judge Patricia Lucas who will also provide some brief remarks; several speakers to regale us with past stories of where we've been and what we've accomplished, including James McManis (trial lawyer & 47 year SCCBA member) and the Hon. Julie Emede (2005 SCCBA President); and newly designed SCCBA storyboards highlighting the past decades of our legal community.  I encourage all members to join me, Judge Lucas, and members of our bench and legal community as we kickoff our centennial celebration and congratulate our 2017 leaders.  This special event is made possible by our Centennial Gold Partners, who are also the sponsors of the Kickoff Celebration: Fenwick & West LLP, Greenfield, Hoge Fenton, and Pillsbury.  Thank you to all of our Centennial Sponsors for your generous support of the SCCBA and our milestone anniversary. 

2017 promises to be a commemorative year for the SCCBA.  I look forward to sharing it with each of you.  I hope to see you at the Centennial Kickoff and Installation Celebration on January 18th and at events throughout the year.  

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