In a brief State of the Judiciary speech that was broad on generalities while short on specifics, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye told California lawmakers that the coming year will focus on increasing representation for children in the family court system, on unconscious bias among judges and reform of the fine and fee system.
Sakauye, in her sixth year as chief justice and the first Filipina-American on the court, expressed her pleasure at addressing the joint session of the legislature on International Women’s Day, which is “about gender equality and equal pay.”
She touched on the struggles of years past when the California courts, which receive 7.5 million cases a year, faced cutbacks during the deepest recession in state history. She also gave a nod to the bitter battles over court funding and the turbulent times during which the superior and municipal courts unified, over some strong objections among judges.
In a nod to technology upgrades, which has been a sore subject with lawmakers in the past because of cost overruns, Sakauye said the reengineered courts have reduced the more than 40 legacy case management systems that could not communicate with each other, to just a “handful now.”
But her focus was the future. She talked about the “dire need” for lawyers to represent the 80,000 children in the court system given the current caseload for child advocates is about 225 cases per attorney.
She talked about the attempts to root out implicit bias in the courts. She told lawmakers that California is ahead of other states looking at the issue because all state judges already receive training on how to recognize unconscious biases.
She questioned the usefulness of bail in the reform of the fines and fees system. The Chief Justice asked how effective bail is in getting defendants to come to court, or whether it simply penalizes the poor, who spend pre-trial days in jail, unable to make bail. The issue is under review by the judiciary, she said.
Lastly, she spoke of the importance of teaching civics so that school children understand how government works.