Forward. For many years, our court experienced a period of stability with a full contingent of judges and court commissioners presiding in 14 fully staffed departments. Our court budget, while tight, was stable, and our court leadership was unwavering in our commitment to serving the people of Marin County.

Your judges and our court staff are dedicated public servants. Every Judge on our court has prior experience working in public service, whether employed as a staff attorney for a legal non-profit, working with a criminal justice partner, and/or serving on non-profit boards. The work we do is for the benefit of our community and the delivery of service to the public. It is this dedication to public service that, I believe, makes the Marin Superior Court such a special place.

Life is about transitions, and our court is developing new strategies to move forward and grow, welcoming new judges in the future and fully embracing the use of technology.
Marin’s ECourt system is something special. The Marin Superior Court is the recipient of the 2023 IJIS Institute Thomas J. O’Reilly Innovation Award, given in recognition of our staff’s execution and successful launch of ECourt. This honor recognizes technical innovation that has significantly contributed to the advancement of information sharing in the public sector. Our leadership and information technology teams were recognized for both the innovative and collaborative work to modernize the Court’s records-keeping systems and transition from a paper-based operation, and also for the impacts this project has on providing justice and equity to the good people of Marin County and beyond. How our small-and-mighty court arrived at operating a nationally-recognized electronic filing system is worth review.

With incredible foresight, Hon. Kelly Simmons, acting as the Presiding Judge, first turned the court’s rudder and began our transition from paper to electronic files. She asked Hon. Paul Haakenson to take the lead. Without adequate funding to create an ECourt system and in the face of great skepticism, Judge Haakenson laid the foundation for our electronic filing system. As Presiding Judge, he led the court in identifying the right vendor and prioritized the importance of the transition to electronic files.

Judge Haakenson and James Kim, the Court Chief Executive Officer, secured the funding to launch the ECourt project. Together, they worked tirelessly to persuade the Judicial Council of California that our court was worthy of the funding we needed for ECourt. The baton passed from Judge Haakenson to Hon Andrew Sweet when he became the Presiding Judge. Judge Sweet not only led the court through the turmoil of the Covid-19 pandemic, but he also executed on Judge Haakenson’s vision and managed our court’s gradual turn to ECourt. As the court emerged from the worst stages of the pandemic, we grew stronger than ever under his leadership. The court’s conversion to ECourt was full-steam-ahead when Hon. James Chou became Presiding Judge. Thousands of documents and hundreds of case files were scanned by court staff in preparation for the ECourt launch.

Making it look easy, Judge Chou and Mr. Kim managed our court’s early transfer to electronic files. They also coordinated linking the court’s ECourt with our justice partners, including the County of Marin, the Public Defender, District Attorney, and County Counsel. Each partner was required to follow our lead to modify their case management systems to effectively communicate with ECourt. Judges Sheila Lichblau and Geoff Howard were integral members of the ECourt executive committee. Their dedication and service contributed to the successful launch of ECourt in July 2023.

Looking forward in 2024 and with ECourt in place, the court is preparing to launch the newest initiative to address access to mental healthcare in California: the Community Assistance Recovery and Empowerment Court. CARE Court connects a person struggling with untreated mental illness – and often also substance use challenges – with a court-ordered Care Plan for up to 24 months. Each plan is managed by a care team in the community and can include clinical counseling, individualized interventions with several supportive services, medication, and a housing plan. I am committed to making CARE court a success in Marin.

The willingness of our judges to move into different practice areas to fill-in when needed is something else that distinguishes our Court. I am pleased to announce that Judge Stephen Freccero has agreed to serve as the Assistant Presiding Judge. New assignments for 2024 are as follows: Judge Beth Jordan now leads the Unified Family Court as the division supervisor; Judge James Chou now heads the Juvenile and Probate Departments; Judge Sheila Lichblau now serves in the Civil Division; Judge Kelly Simmons has returned to the Criminal Division; and Judge Geoff Howard is the Criminal Division Supervisor.

We also lookback to 2023 with gratitude for the contributions of our recently retired Judges:

Appointed to the court in 2001, Hon. Verna Adams served as a judge with a commitment to excellence, grace and compassion. With too many accomplishments to list here, Judge Adams was instrumental in creating the court’s Self-Help Center.

Elected to the bench in 2010, Hon. Roy Chernus, as the former Executive Director of Legal Aid of Marin, brought his values and commitment to justice for all to our court. He was instrumental in creating Marin’s Veteran’s Treatment Court.

Appointed in 2013, Hon. Beverly Wood launched Marin’s Community Court, which helps to provide support to Marin’s most financially marginalized. The Community Court is a model followed by counties throughout the state.

Prior to becoming Judges, Chernus and Wood also served as commissioners. We wish them all well in their retirement.

We also offer Hon. Kevin Murphy a warm welcome to the Marin Superior Court. Judge Murphy served as a Judge at the Alameda County Superior Court since 2006. He currently presides in a felony department.

Lastly, I recognize that the transition to ECourt in 2023 was not without its hiccups. I appreciate the space the MCBA gave the Judges and staff to make mistakes along the way. We are human after all, and we are very grateful for your patience.
Adelante. Forward.