SAN FRANCISCO—At its public meeting on February 25-26, the council approved a recommendation from its Court Facilities Advisory Committee to update the scope, schedule, and budget for a new courthouse in downtown Sacramento.

“Sacramento desperately needs a new courthouse,” said Justice Brad Hill, chair of the council’s Court Facilities Advisory Committee. “It needs a courthouse that is ADA compliant, that is secure, and that will meet the needs of the citizens of Sacramento for years to come.”

The new courthouse will consolidate services and criminal and civil cases in a single secure 53-courtroom facility, replacing the overcrowded and inadequate Gordon D. Schaber Courthouse. Council approval enables staff to seek executive branch approval for a scope change for the project, after which it would move into architectural design.

Increased Language Access in the Courts
The council also received an update from its Language Access Plan Implementation Task Force, which highlighted resources created for courts to better serve the 7 million limited-English-speakers and potential court users in California. Based on input from a variety of justice system stakeholders, the improvements include a new model notice translated into eight languages that will inform limited-English-proficient court users about the availability of language services.

The task force has also led the development of an online toolkit that has information and resources for courts. Other projects the task force is working on include training for judges and court staff, and a pilot project to pilot video remote interpreting (VRI) technology in the trial courts, which would inform a long-term VRI strategy for the judicial branch.

Other items on the council meeting agenda included:

Request for Reserve Funding: The council approved a recommendation from its Trial Court Budget Advisory Committee to allocate $272,000 in supplemental funding to the Superior Court of Tehama County. The funding will help offset costs related to an attack on the court’s technology infrastructure last year that disabled the court’s case management system, telephones, exchange server, jury system, shared and individual drives, and website. Without the supplemental funding, the court would have to reduce staff, clerk’s office hours, and services for the public. The council is required by statute to set aside 2% of the total funds appropriated annually in the Trial Court Trust Fund for urgent needs of the trial courts. After March 15, any remaining funds from the 2% set-aside is distributed to all trial courts.

Child Support Commissioner and Family Law Facilitator Program: The council considered recommendations related to the funding model for the AB 1058 Child Support Commissioner and Family Law Facilitator Program. The council voted to coordinate with the California Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) on their current review of funding allocations for local child support agencies, and review its funding methodology for the child support commissioners and family law facilitators at the conclusion of the DCSS program review. In the meantime, the council will continue to allocate funding using the current methodology, but agreed to develop a new workload-based methodology by at least fiscal year 2018-2019.

Court-Appointed Counsel: The council received an interim report from a joint working group of the council’s Trial Court Budget Advisory Committee and Family and Juvenile Law Advisory Committee on its work to change the methodology used to allocate funding for court-appointed dependency counsel in the courts. The new funding methodology will be based on workload and recommend a reduced caseload of 141 for each court-appointed counsel. That would be less than the 188 cases recommended in the current standards, but still far more than the 100 cases recommended by the American Bar Association to ensure adequate representation. The joint working group will submit its final recommendations at the council’s April meeting.

Court Technology Update: The council received an update on the implementation of the Judicial Council-adopted Court Technology Governance and Strategic Plan, including how technology solutions are improving business processes, operations, and service to the public. The council heard from the Superior Court of Plumas County on its collaboration with other small courts to share resources for their case management systems. The council heard from the Superior Court of Los Angeles County on how it improved its traffic court, including online services that help court users make payments, schedule appearances, and access a virtual assistant that walks them through the process. The council also heard from its IT staff on statewide efforts to improve e-filing, web services, document management, and court websites.

Tribal Court-State Court Forum: A special presentation honored Judge Richard C. Blake, former chair of the council’s Tribal Court-State Court Forum, and chronicled the forum’s accomplishments. Established in 2010, the forum makes recommendations to the council for improving the administration of justice in all proceedings in which the authority to exercise jurisdiction is shared between the state judicial branch and tribal justice systems. The council heard about cooperation between these two systems that has led to improved outcomes in juvenile dependency, domestic violence cases, conservatorships, and other judicial proceedings.

Judging, Unconscious Bias, and Decisionmaking: The council heard a presentation on current research in social psychology and cognitive science which suggests how judges, attorneys, and justice partners might reduce the influence of unconscious bias on decisionmaking. The presentation also highlighted education and information available for new and experienced judges and court staff, which include toolkits, roundtables, and unconscious bias curriculum integrated into existing online and in-person trainings.

An archived videocast of the entire meeting broken out by topic will be available on the council’s meeting information webpage.