News Release

2018 State of the Judiciary Address: Chief Justice calls for Civil Justice Reform Initiative

Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye presented her annual State of the Judiciary Address to the Legislature on March 19, 2018.
Mar 20, 2018

On March 19, Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye delivered her annual State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the California Legislature.

March 19, 2018, 4 p.m.


Good afternoon. Thank you Speaker Rendon and President Pro Tem De Leon for inviting me to address this joint session of the Legislature on the state of the judiciary.

I am proud to be here with my colleagues from the judicial branch—justices, judges, commissioners, attorneys, lawyers, staff and the legal community.

Those of you who were here today and visited legislative offices, will you please stand? Thank you. Thank you for your service on behalf of the judicial branch.

I’m also grateful that some of my beloved family is here tonight—as has been stated, my husband, Mark and my in-laws, Jiro and Dorothy. For the first time, my mother Mary Cantil is unable to attend, but I’ll show her the YouTube video and the tweets later. I love you Mom.

Before I begin, I’d like to take a moment to reflect and to give thanks for all that we have accomplished together.

As I observe the harsh rhetoric on the national stage, I am grateful for the leadership in California of our three branches of government. And for our conscious civility as we navigated the great recession and beyond.

It is true we will always have challenges. But California survives and thrives because of our collective wisdom, unwavering will, and our mutual commitment to the Rule of Law.

It hasn’t always been easy.

Before you renewed investment in the judicial branch, during the budget crunch years, the criminal justice system was reformed. And additional work fell upon the courts to absorb, brought by those changes.

It was during the budget crunch years that those reforms unwound decades of laws passed by previous legislatures and signed by previous governors.

It was during the budget crunch years that California’s priorities and policies changed, and the courts were tasked with interpreting and implementing those changes.

We did so, for example, by processing hundreds of thousands of new filings for resentencing. And this has affected, and continues to affect, every level of court.

As you know, we used our limited resources and focused in on criminal matters—not only because the Constitution and statutes mandated that focus, but also because individual liberties were at stake.

And now years later, after renewed investment in the judicial branch, thanks to you and thanks to the Governor, we’ve had the opportunity to step back and study the needs of our court users and the future of justice in California.

We first turned to the needs of those court users who are indigent and accused. And it is in that situation we asked, “Is money bail safe and is it even fair?”

The answer lies in our pretrial detention report, a report that has the echoes of history from 1964 when then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy gave congressional testimony. He said about the money bail system then that it is “a vehicle for systematic injustice” and he said it is “cruel and the cost of that system is needless.”

Now I’m going to tell you in 1964, that was pretty strong language. And I will submit to you that in 2018, it is a clarion for justice.

Our report was delivered by an intentionally selected diverse group of judges and CEOs. And by diverse, I mean men, women, people of color, judges with many years of experience. Judges with only a few. Judges who came from rural and urban counties. And judges who came from small and large counties.

We had a judge on this workgroup who was a former deputy district attorney. We had a judge on this workgroup who was a former deputy public defender. We had a judge on this workgroup who was a former cop.

Now I smile because it appears to be a recipe for disaster, except that I had faith, and continue to have faith, in the dedicated professionals, men and women, in our branch—who with our shared DNA, will deliberate in a fair and just manner.

I’m told at their first meeting, this group agreed on nothing. But after a year’s worth of study and public meetings, I’m proud to say that they delivered a unanimous report with 10 recommendations. Ten recommendations taken as a whole—not as parts—reflect a fairer, safer justice system.

After the bail study, I turned to the future of justice in California, and I formed the Futures Commission. It consisted of court users, court employees, lawyers, judges—and I asked them to question the past, present, and future and to make recommendations on how we go forward with the future of justice in California. At the time, we were concerned with two major forces:

  1. The first was income inequality. We knew that at the time the branch was losing resources, income inequality was on the rise. In fact, the Public Policy Institute of California reports that the poorest Californians’ income dropped by nearly 25%. Those incomes have not recovered since the Great Recession.
  2. The other major force we were concerned about in the Futures Commission was what to do, and how to approach, the profile of the new court user. In today’s day and age, when you can order groceries and your dinner online, within hours to your doorstep, and when retail and entertainment is on demand, and we have a 24-hour news cycle—how do we provide access and fairness to Generation Z?

The Futures Commission, with 64 members strong, was led by the indomitable duo of Supreme Court Justice Carol Corrigan and now retired Justice Bill McGuiness from the appellate district 1DCA. With 64 members strong and two years of work, [the commission] delivered thoughtful, sobering, and innovative recommendations.

I am gratified that the Governor’s strong proposed budget for the judicial branch references three of those Futures recommendations.

The first is $19 million to expand self-represented litigant services for those who come to court without an attorney.

We know that more than 4 million Californians come to court without an attorney. We know that in three-quarters of civil cases, at least one side doesn't have an attorney.

Our self-help programs serve at least 1 million people a year and our self-help website receives 4.3 million unique visits a year.

The need for self-help is undeniable.

Second, the Governor proposes, and we support, $3.4 million for our efforts to initiate a tech-based traffic system, one that could lead to decriminalizing minor traffic infractions and make life simpler for everyone. Because if you're going to pay the ticket anyway—you might as well do it online.

Third, the Governor proposes, and we support, $4 million for language access in civil matters.

The bail study and the Futures recommendations are forward looking.

And what's especially forward-looking is another $123 million proposed in the Governor's budget for the trial courts. This will allow the trials courts the needed flexibility to restore services they regrettably reduced.

Few of us need to be reminded that in the Great Recession, civil cases took a back seat to criminal cases. For many courts, civil dockets were, and continue to be, greatly delayed.

This additional money would help courts help those who were unfortunately left behind—those seeking civil justice.

Civil justice encompasses wide and complicated bodies of law like constitutional law, environmental law, consumer law, and health and welfare across the board.

It focuses on claims for personal injury, discrimination, retaliation, misconduct, lost jobs, and many more.

And who is left behind? Children, elders, veterans, businesses, neighbors, and constituents.

I know everyone in this room is committed to providing a timely, fair, and accessible day in court for our constituents.

This money will provide an opportunity for courts to help and resolve cases in a timelier manner in the civil arena.

And this is important because what we know is there is an onslaught of cases waiting to be filed. With the fires alone, we’re informed that our residents have filed more than 45,000 insurance claims totaling nearly $12 billion dollars, concerning 32,000 homes and 4,000 businesses.

And so knowing that in California we have had a historical delay in our civil justice arena, and in the anticipation of new cases, I think it’s time and it’s really fair at this point to announce and focus on a three-tiered civil justice reform initiative.

And the first tier of the civil justice reform initiative should be that we restore courthouses to their full operating hours and staff. And that we provide fair compensation to our court family.

As a second part of this tier, I suggest that we embrace the three recommendations that are highlighted in the Governor’s proposed budget, which is to provide additional funding for self-represented litigants, technology and traffic, and language access.

And third, I think we should work collectively to develop and employ a group of people called, for lack of a better term, legal Wayfinders, who could personally assist people who come to court without an attorney. We know that we could work together and also find best practices and draw on the work of our self-help programs and our excellent volunteer JusticeCorps folks who are used now in Los Angeles, San Diego, and the Bay Area.

So what could legal Wayfinders do?

Legal Wayfinders can meet people and guide them to the appropriate window, appropriate courtroom, appropriate courthouse. A legal Wayfinder could explain the options and the consequences and the procedures and find the right form and actually help the person fill out the form and get it filed in the right place. A legal Wayfinder could provide referrals for services, not only in the courtroom, but out in the community. A legal Wayfinder could do this on a one-on-one basis or in a workshop setting.

We have examples from which to draw. For example, a JusticeCorps volunteer, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, tells us that in her job she helps women in her community obtain domestic violence restraining orders, and she helps tenants who are near eviction.

A self-help attorney in Alameda tells us that she helps people who “are one day away from homelessness.”

Another attorney tells us that “we can’t stress enough the value of self-help because it provides the best possible outcome for all litigants and it helps keep the courts running effectively. Because if the paperwork isn’t filled out properly, it only results in delays.”

So, in closing—I know all of us here support a fair and accessible justice system, and our residents deserve that. And it’s only natural that California be the leader in this regard.

On the national front, we have unprecedented disruption, attacks on the free press, threats to the rule of civility, the Rule of Law, and judicial independence.

But fortunately, our founders focused much on the limits of power in the Constitution when they constructed the three branches of government, the checks and balances, as well as adopting the Bill of Rights and building a federal system that still recognizes the rights of states to govern some of their own business.

We know that in California, California’s right to govern its own affairs is now being litigated in federal court. So it’s only natural that nationally, the Law Day theme this year is “Separation of Powers: Framework for Freedom.”

Our Governor said in his State of the State that for California, we persevere, and the bolder way is still our way forward.

And so I ask you to help, together, to stay on the bold path and provide for a fair, accessible justice system.

Thank you for your attention.