The 2016 – 2017 court year summary:
- Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar retires after 23 years on the high court;
- Court appoints Jorge E. Navarrete as Court Administrator and Clerk;
- Former Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas dies at age 89;
- Court files 87 written opinions;
- Ethics committees enhance California’s robust judicial ethics infrastructure;
- Court exerts “inherent authority” over the State Bar of California;
- Civics engagement continues with full year of oral argument live streaming with captions in English and Spanish, outreach sessions with students in courtrooms, and a special session held in San Diego;
- Mandatory e-filing begins;
- Court highlights the results of the petition conference; and
- Court grants Sei Fujii honorary posthumous membership in the State Bar of California.
The 2016 – 2017 Court Year was bookended by the appointment of Jorge E. Navarrete as the 27th Court Administrator and Clerk and the first Latino to hold that position; and by the retirement of Associate Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar after 23 years on the court and a 55-year career in public service. The court also lost former Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas, who died after a battle with cancer.
From September 2016 to August 2017, the court issued 87 written opinions, deciding matters of statewide importance and maintaining uniformity in the law throughout California.
A Year in Photos
Robust Judicial Ethics Infrastructure
Two independent committees appointed by the Supreme Court contribute to the state's robust judicial ethics infrastructure.
The Advisory Committee on the Code of Judicial Ethics makes recommendations to the court on possible amendments to the California Code of Judicial Ethics.
In December 2016, the Advisory Committee recommended, and the court approved, revisions to the Code that included clarifications and amendments to existing canons, and the addition of a new canon 3E(6) addressing grounds for disqualification of appellate justices.
The court’s Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions educates the judiciary and the public about judicial ethics through opinions and advice on a variety of topics.
During this court year, the committee published three formal opinions. These opinions addressed issues associated with judges meeting with vendors, involvement with marijuana enterprises, and serving on a nonprofit charter school board.
The committee also issued, and published online, a summary of oral advice it provided to a judge about serving as an adviser to a nonprofit financial institution.
Oversight of the State Bar of California
The State Bar is the administrative arm of the court tasked with licensing and regulating the legal profession to protect the public, and promoting access to justice for all Californians. The absence of a legislative attorney member fee authorization for 2017 prompted the court to exercise its inherent authority over the State Bar's disciplinary and regulatory functions to order an interim special regulatory assessment and to appoint a special master to oversee such functions. The court also issued orders in numerous attorney discipline matters.
Additionally, the court made two appointments to the State Bar Board of Trustees, attorneys James Fox and Hailyn Chen, and approved amendments to Title 9 of the California Rules of Court that clarified the court's inherent power and authority over State Bar admissions.
The court regularly conducts outreach sessions at which high school, university, and law school students visit the court’s Los Angeles, Sacramento, or San Francisco courtrooms to hear oral arguments. This court year 15 school groups with more than 350 students visited a Supreme Court courtroom for an oral argument session.
The court also travels to other locations where a Special Session is hosted by a court, law school, or high school to hear oral arguments. Judges, educators, and local bar associations collaborate on an educational program to brief the students about the court’s processes and the background to the cases being heard. A rewarding component of the program for both the students and the court is a Q&A session in which students have the opportunity to ask the justices questions. In September 2016, the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, in San Diego hosted the court and Brawley High School, King Chavez High School, and Momentum Learning for a special session.
The court's 2016–2017 term marked the first full year of live streaming of all of the court’s oral argument sessions with real-time captioning in English and Spanish. The streams garnered more than 15,000 views of the live oral argument sessions, and more than 16,000 views of the archived sessions on the permanent archive of the court’s website.
Mandatory E-filing Begins
Commencing with a voluntary program in July 2017, that then became mandatory September 1, 2017, the court implemented electronic filing of certain documents, including petitions for review in civil and criminal cases and all documents in death penalty appeals and related habeas corpus proceedings.
The court promulgated e-filing rules that specify which documents must be e-filed, which may be e-filed, and how the e-filing process works. The rules also include exemptions from mandatory e-filing for self-represented litigants and superior courts, and establish a process for parties to ask for an excusal from the e-filing requirement. The court will periodically revise the rules to extend mandatory e-filing to other documents.
Court Highlights the Results of the Petition Conference
The court continued to adjust its weekly petition conference results document to highlight instances in which a justice or justices disagreed with the court’s decision not to grant review, and to more readily identify the cases that were granted.
On average, the court considered nearly 170 matters — including petitions for review in civil and criminal cases, petitions for original writs, and various motions — at each weekly petition conference.
Repudiating Past Injustice
Through Administrative Order 2017-05-17, the court addressed another issue of past bias and prejudice, granting honorary posthumous membership in the State Bar of California to Sei Fujii.
The order read in part:
“Despite being formally excluded from joining the ranks of the legal profession through his life, Fujii spent much of his career using the courts to advance the rule of law in California.”
“Fujii’s work in the face of prejudice and oppression embodies the highest traditions of those who work to make our society more just.”
“Though Fujii both graduated from law school and made his career in California, throughout his entire professional life he was barred from obtaining a license to practice law in the state. This was an injustice that we repudiate today by granting Fujii honorary posthumous membership in the State Bar of California.”
Death Penalty Habeas Corpus: Order to Show Cause
* “Other matters” under Civil and Criminal Original Proceedings includes such matters as requests for publication and depublication of Court of Appeal opinions, executive clemency proceedings, and requests from another court in the country that the court answer a question of California state law.
The Supreme Court considers September 1–August 31 as its court year because that reflects the natural rhythm of the court's work. Supreme Court oral argument is set for 10 months out of every court year with June as the last month. As a general matter, opinions for cases argued by June are filed by August 31.