If you missed it, outgoing Presiding Judge Andrew Sweet and Court CEO James Kim provided the much-anticipated update on the Marin County Superior Court on October 27, 2021, at what is normally the annual Judges' Luncheon. Again this year, there was no lunch and no gathering – just a Zoom meeting that over 130 of you attended.

We can expect some positive changes in 2022. Some things will surprisingly remain the same. Generally, civil jury trials are back to nearly normal, though with COVID precautions. Criminal trials have been going since much further back during the pandemic and continue apace.

JUDICIAL ASSIGNMENTS

These assignments are for 2022 and 2023. Judge James Chou will assume the duties of Presiding Judge on January 1, 2022. Judge Mark Talamantes will become Assistant Presiding Judge. There were many thanks and much deserved praise for Judge Sweet’s handling of the Court over the past two years. Within three months of taking the job in January 2020, Judge Sweet inherited and presided over the most difficult two years at the Court in any of our careers. Though it was certainly not easy, all facets of the Court continued on during the pandemic and the wheels of justice continued to turn.

Starting in 2022, most assignments are not changing:

Civil:
Judges Sweet (Supervising), Chou, and Freccero

Family:
Judges Lichtblau (Supervising), Adams, and Talamantes

Criminal:
Judges Haakenson (Supervising), Howard, Jordan, and Chernus
Judge Haakenson: Adult Drug Court
Judge Howard: Domestic Violence Court
Judge Jordan: STAR Court
Judge Chernus: Department M and Veterans Court

Juvenile:
Judge Wood (who will also handle trial court from the Criminal Division ½ time)

Probate:
Judge Simmons

Settlement:
Judge Simmons

COURT FILINGS

Most court filings were down last year except that criminal filings were up. Judge Sweet made the comparison between pre- (2018-19 fiscal year) and post-pandemic filings (2020-2021) with some surprising results:

Civil filings: Down from 2873 to 2546 (down 11%)
Family law filings: Down from 1365 to 1155 (down 15%)
Misdemeanor filings: Down from 3433 to 2232 (down 32%)
Felony filings: Up from 844 to 1,643 (nearly double)
Probate filings: Up from 489 to 525 (up 7%)

James Kim provided an update and insight into the administrative side of the Court during COVID and what to expect in the coming year.

CASE FILING BACKLOG

Mr. Kim explained that much of the backlog we have experienced is a problem with state funding. The state has approved additional funding to allow for more hiring, but there is still a backlog. At the height of the pandemic, backlogs were running six weeks or more from drop off in the inbox to actual filing, the current backlog in civil cases is down to about two weeks. Family law, small claims, and unlawful detainer filings are all caught up and are pretty much filed in real time now. Drop box filings are still prioritized by date dropped off. Staff regularly check the box and are taking the documents on the day they are dropped off. Filings at the counter do not have priority over the drop box filings.

COVID 19 UPDATE

The Court continues to do electrostatic cleaning and deep cleaning of Court facilities. Court personnel are using thermal cameras to ensures that people with higher-than-normal temperatures are kept out. There have been no outbreaks of COVID in any of the Court offices.

Marin Superior Court staff are 94% vaccinated with only a “handful” of people remaining unvaccinated. A 100% masking requirement still applies in all courtrooms.

All jurors and prospective jurors undergo temperature screening. Jury questionnaires are being used regularly. There are also air purifiers with HEPA filters in the jury rooms.

BUDGET

The Court had a $1 million shortfall last year. State funding has stayed flat despite increased costs of dealing with COVID. The Court projects a $700,000 shortfall for the coming year. The Court was very proud to report that it had no furloughs or layoffs through the pandemic and none are expected. State funding and filings are correlated: as filings go down, so does funding from the state. The Court has taken this into consideration in its budgeting and Mr. Kim feels that, despite the shortfalls, Marin Superior Court has a sound fiscal policy in place and that it is in good shape going forward.

ELECTRONIC CASE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM

There was, and has been for some time, substantial interest among our members about the new electronic filing and case management systems. The Court is in the last fiscal year of planning for the new system, which will be implemented incrementally over the coming years. The anticipated highlights of that rollout are:

  • E-delivery in January or February 2022. E-delivery is not e-filing. Rather, lawyers will be able to “deliver” filings to the court digitally, but filing will continue manually.
  • The new case management system will be automated—Bot Technology—to help with future backlogs. It should be in place by July 2022. Once that is in place, the e-filing system can be implemented.
  • The Court is, and has been, engaged in an “aggressive scanning process.” All filings that now exist on paper are being scanned. By mid-2022, all files will be digital and there will be no more paper records at the Court.
  • There will be training for staff, lawyers, and the public in the use of the new system.
  • The Court’s website is also being updated to be accessible from all devices, accessible in multiple languages, and to allow a user to increase font size in real time.

Information about the CMS and e-filing systems will be coming through the Court’s web site. Training programs are being planned now and will be either in person or on Zoom in 2022.

HIRING NEW STAFF

Since June 2021, the Court has hired 17 people. There is a “crisis” in government, as there is in the private sector, of finding qualified applicants. Marin has hired people from other courts and the private sector including from Tesla, Google and Amazon. These are people with skill sets needed in the new age of a digital court. Much training of staff is happening now and there is a new energy among Court staff because of the new hirings and blossoming technology.

Nonetheless, Mr. Kim puts the current staff shortfall as still being at 15-20% –not just clerks, but in HR, IT, and finance. The Court is most in need of IT professionals. Referrals are welcome!

COURT APPEARANCES

The default in criminal cases is still “in-person” appearances. Most parties demand it. Judge Sweet was not sure how long Zoom appearances will be allowed.

The default and presumption for evidentiary hearings is that counsel and witnesses will make in-person appearances, but there is still the opportunity to request remote.

Family Court requires personal appearances though Judge Adams points out that the tentative rulings still say appearances can be either in-person or by Zoom.

Zoom remains available and will continue to for the foreseeable future for non-evidentiary hearings. Judge Sweet notes that Zoom is preferable to, and cheaper than, telephonic appearances, and is less expensive for clients. There are no plans at present to change this.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

  • Probate tentative rulings are out early on Friday. The department is understaffed and they do their best. Sometimes they are late but every effort is being made for timely Friday tentative rulings.
  • E-filing ideas. The Court welcomes your experiences with what works and what does not work in other jurisdictions.
  • The CMS and E-Filing details. Marin’s contract is with Journal, which has negotiated a statewide contract. The other main system, Tyler, does a lot of e-filing systems, but does not have a statewide contract. Journal is the system Alameda just changed to as well as Placer and several other counties. It has a higher level of integration and was deemed preferable. Sonoma is on the Tyler system. San Francisco runs the Thompson Reuters system.
  • Local Rules. Changes are coming. The main focus is working with the State Management System.