Thursday, May 21, 2009

Now They're Chopping Down The Totem Pole We're the Low Guy On...

In the wake of the vote-down of the Governor's various last-ditch "budget-rescue" bills, the Los Angeles Superior Court has announced that they will be closing all courtrooms one Wednesday per month, commencing in July, and continuing for the next fiscal year.

This is, in a word, not likely to improve the functioning of the family court system, and not likely to make it more responsive to the needs of the public.

As I've noted in these pages earlier, the system is already working short-handed and short-budgeted.

This change will mean that family law court calendars will be, on average, five percent longer, or one or two extra cases, per day, per judge. That may not seem like much, until you consider that family law judges are often already hearing fifteen to twenty cases per day. Assuming a judge is on the bench hearing testimony, or calling calendar, six hours per day (the rest of the time is to READ the reams of stuff) that's a total of 24 minutes per hearing per case. . . . whether or not anyone involved in the matter speaks English, or has brought along a real interpreter. . . . . .and whether or not anyone can coherently explain why they're in court, or what they want the court to do about it...

It means that the time before someone can get into court to address what they, at least, regard as important issues (where their kids stay, with whom; who pays to feed the kids; who stays in the house, when there's been domestic violence etc.) will be on average, five percent longer (custody hearings are already being set two months plus from the date of filing, with support hearings often following along with that delay)

It means, unfortunately, that the job of being a family law judicial officer, already generally recognized as a high-burnout judicial assignment, will be regarded as even less of a "plum", and even more of a "lemon".

Friday, May 1, 2009

A new month, some big pieces pending, and some miscellaneous

Pardon the twenty-day hiatus; had to get through tax season, and some business issues. I also started but didn't finish a couple of long pieces, which will yet see the light of day here, having to do with what needs to be done, by government, lawyers, and YOU, readers, the public, to salvage a usable family law system from the rapidly unraveling social safety net.

On that "note", a pair of uncommonly frank footnotes in a recent California appellate opinion note the long-standing problem of judicial assignments in family law matters, (see notes 8 and 11) echoing the "low-man-on-the-totem pole" complaint of Justice Robert Gardner in Marriage of Brantner, some thirty-two years ago:

"Actually, in its use of courtroom time the present judicial process seems to have its priorities confused. Domestic relations litigation, one of the most important and sensitive tasks a judge faces, too often is given the low-man-on-the-totem-pole treatment, quite often being fobbed off on a commissioner. One of the paradoxes of our present legal system is that it is accepted practice to tie up a court for days while a gaggle of professional medical witnesses expound to a jury on just how devastating or just how trivial a personal injury may be, all to the personal enrichment of the trial lawyers involved, yet at the same time we begrudge the judicial resources necessary for careful and reasoned judgments in this most delicate field—the breakup of a marriage with its resulting trauma and troublesome fiscal aftermath. The courts should not begrudge the time necessary to carefully go over the wreckage of a marriage in order to effect substantial justice to all parties involved. "


The Connecticut legislature passes, and a Republican governor signs, a same sex-marriage bill, and Maine appears on the verge of approving one; there's even rumblings in Rhode Island.


An eight-year-old girl in Saudi Arabia is allowed, finally, to end her arranged marriage-in-absentia (arranged by her father) to a 50 year old man.