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Judges, Court Staff Clash Over Future of California Court System

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on February 09, 2016 2:58 PM

A public meeting on the future of the California courts recently exposed "a fundamental philosophical difference over how California courts should operate," the Courthouse News Service reports. On one side are the members of the Commission on the Future of California's Court System, an almost-all-judge panel tasked with examining ways to increase efficiency and financial stability in the court system.

On the other are court workers and labor representatives, who view the Commission as a bureaucratic intrusion, CNS reports -- an intrusion that threatens to replace many court jobs with machines.

Are We the Old West? Or the Sci-Fi Future?

The Commission on the Future of California's Court System was established by Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye in 2014 to examine ways to improve the court system. Among the 15 "concepts" the Commission is considering are the use of mediation systems in family courts and the "most cost effective staffing model" for court administrative services.

In the public meeting, California Supreme Court Associate Justice Carol Corrigan, head of the Commission, indicated that the measures were needed to modernize the court system. "If you looked at a movie about a courtroom in the old west or in 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' you would recognize that courtroom as pretty similar to what we do most days in California," she said according to a report by CNS's Maria Dinzeo. "We're now in the 21st century. It's legitimate to ask, 'What can we do better?' Then we will do nothing more than give a report to the chief justice and it's up to her to decide what, if any, ideas have merit and what will she carry forward."

Electronic Recorders, Centralization, and Docketing

Many in the audience weren't convinced by Judge Corrigan's statements. Court reporters took issue with the idea that they could be effectively replaced by electronic recorders. In a meeting in San Francisco yesterday, Brooke Ryan, a court reporter from Sacramento, said that the devices provide a "less effective, less reliable, less accurate, and incomplete court record," Dinzeo reports.

Other controversial issues before the Commission include the centralization of labor negotiations and hiring, and the sharing of case information, perhaps through a revival of much-maligned and recently-abandoned Courts Case Management System.

However, despite opposition, Judge Corrigan assured participants in the meeting that nothing was finalized, nor was it ever intended to be. The goal of the Commission is just to propose ideas to be considered by the Chief Justice, she said.

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