Oct 29, 2018
October Member Luncheon
The State of the Marin Courts: The 2018 Judges’ Luncheon Report
Oct 29, 2018
By Mary Sackett
The October 24th MCBA sold-out Judges' Luncheon was a show not to be missed. Presiding Judge Haakenson reported on developments at the Marin County Courts, announced the judicial assignments for next year, shared entertaining highlights of each of his colleagues (eliciting a few groans along with the laughter at his puns), and displayed his considerable movie making skills.
Judge Haakenson started by kindly asking “Who should be honoring who?” Judge Haakenson shared appreciation from the bench for the work that the bar does for the community and the court. He explained that in traveling around the state as Presiding Judge, the Marin bar stands out as unique and creative. His colleagues in other counties are astonished by the strategies that the Marin bench and bar use, often as partners, to keep the courthouse doors and windows open and the courts running without delays.
James Humes, Presiding Justice, First District Court of Appeal, visited Marin Superior Court and was delighted and inspired by his visit. He testified before the Judicial Council about his observations in Marin, “We can all learn by some of the collaborative and creative ways Marin has provided services on a shrinking budget.” Judge Haakenson, on behalf of his colleagues on the Bench, offered his profound thanks for all that the Marin County Bar does.
Some examples of the myriad collaborations in which Marin lawyers contribute their time and energy to make the resources of the Marin courts go further and help serve the community at large are:
- Family Law Bench Bar Settlement Conference.
- Family Law Interdisciplinary Settlement Conferences.
- Civil and probate Mandatory Settlement Conferences (161 attorneys this year).
- Lawyers in the Library. Lawyers in the Library needs volunteers, especially attorneys with knowledge of family law and landlord tenant matters. 700 people have been served through this program since its inception in 2016.
- Unlawful Detainer Settlement Conferences. 10 to 15 cases are set for trial each week, often with the parties being pro per. The conferences settle more than 90% of the cases and achieve good results for the clients. Settling these cases frees courtrooms for civil trials to proceed as scheduled.
- Civil Harassment Restraining Orders.
- Community Court in the St. Vincent de Paul dining room, and now also in the courtroom through Pathways.
- Youth Court.
- Legal Self-Help Center. Judge Haakenson announced that the Court recently received a grant to convert Courtroom P into a Legal Self-Help Center. A lawyer will be hired to work in the center, and there will be space for attorneys to both sit in the Self-Help Center and also be on call. Watch for details on this new program.
- Civil Bench Bar Committee. Members of the bench and bar are together reviewing local rules and looking at streamlining policies and procedures.
- Discovery Facilitator Program. This program has been invaluable, taking numerous motions off the calendar each week. More volunteers are needed! The service of those who do volunteer is greatly appreciated and invaluable to the bench.
More information on each of these volunteer opportunities can be found here.
The Court’s Budget
To everyone’s great relief and in something of a surprise, there were no major cuts this year, though the Court is still absorbing $2M worth of budget cuts from the last four years. Court filings are down, which might mean a budget cut next year. The doors are still open, the hours have not been cut, but Judge Haakenson stated that it feels like the Courts are at the tipping point every single day and week to ensure all functions are staffed.
Case Management System
It is estimated that a new filing system will cost $6M, and the Court’s annual budget is $11M. The State does not allow the court to save more than 1% of its budget each year and so there is no way to save up for a new system. The Judicial Council would like to see Marin have a new system, and Marin filed a proposal for money outside of the ordinary judicial branch budget. The request was denied but Court Chief Executive Officer James Kim is creative and resourceful and is constantly working on a plan to pay for a case management system. There is cautious optimism that a contract will be signed by the end of the fiscal year. A survey will be going out about attorney preferences between Tyler Technologies or Journal Technologies.
Judge Haakenson announced the following assignments for 2019:
Simmons (Supervising) (J)
Criminal Misdemeanor Calendar:
Chernus, with Wood as backup (G)
Adult Drug Court:
Family Violence Court:
Freccero (Supervising) (A)
Civil Harassment Restraining Order:
Adams (Supervising) (H)
Wood may keep some current family law cases.
Judge Haakenson then showed Hollywood footage of each of the members on the bench. What stood out is that the Marin Bench is collegial and hard working. Each judge is willing to tackle a new subject area and even ask for the stretch. A few highlights from the reel:
- A year in, Judge Beth Jordan is described as “awesome” and willing to take on any type of case. She will be taking over from Judge Sweet in courtroom M, which is fast-paced and relentless. It sees 50-100 cases per day. She is up for the challenge. On top of the heavy case load, the criminal court sees changing case law on sentencing guidelines and bail reform. Last year the criminal division saw 3,100 new misdemeanor cases and 637 new felonies. As of October 2018, there are 5,086 active misdemeanor cases.
- Judge Sweet always ensures a pristine (i.e., clear, comprehensible and complete) record.
- Judge Freccero is described as "a rock” and has the last car in the parking lot many nights.
- Judge Chernus will be raring to go in the trial department. He is always positive and willing to help, day in and day out. The civil division saw 2,600 cases filed this year, which is down slightly from the prior fiscal year.
- The Family Law Division saw 1,166 cases last year. 194 involved some kind of domestic violence. 1,115 family law cases are currently in the system.
- Judge Lichtblau has been going to weekend family law boot camps, learning all there is to know about family law.
- Judge Talamantes personally bakes a cake every time he presides over an adoption!
- The San Francisco Bar Association recognized Judge Adams for helping to provide supervised visitation for low income families.
- The Marin Trial Lawyers Association recognized Judge Wood as Judge of the Year.
- Judge Simmons creatively finds solutions to our most difficult community issues that she sees from the bench. She recently established a new court called “Pathways,” connecting Marin County Health and Human Services to the courtroom at a moment’s notice. Read more about it in Judge's Simmons’ column in this newsletter.
If you missed the luncheon, words cannot adequately convey Judge Haakenson’s six-minute closing cinematic masterpiece, showing him behind bars, breaking into the clerk’s office, turning into a caped superhero, and being placed in the shredder by his clerk. Isn’t that enough incentive to make sure you attend next year’s luncheon?
Mary Sackett is a Board Aide to Marin County Supervisor Damon Connolly, serving District 1. Her areas of focus are transportation, the environment and housing. Mary has a long history of community service in Marin County with Safe Routes to Schools, All One Ocean, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. Prior to joining the County she was a litigation attorney in Tiburon. She is licensed to practice law in California, Iowa and West Virginia.