News Release

Courts Improving Access for Mentally Ill

Dec 11, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO— A task force appointed three years ago by Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye to improve case processing and outcomes for court users with mental illness was sunsetted by the Judicial Council with an assurance that the council will carry on its work with the help of other advisory committees.

At its public meeting on December 11, the council received the final report from its Mental Health Issues Implementation Task Force. The task force itself was an outgrowth of an earlier groundbreaking council initiative: The Task Force for Criminal Justice Collaboration on Mental Health Issues, which was launched in 2008. In 2012, it filed in its final report, Recommendations for Changing the Paradigm for Persons with Mental Illness in the Criminal Justice System.

“I sense that we have begun to really make a difference in how the mentally ill are treated in the justice system,” said Santa Clara County Judge Richard J. Loftus, Jr., who chaired the implementation task force. “The California courts have shown real leadership and have gained the attention of our justice partners. The President has endorsed a program called the Marshall program and the U.S. attorney general has initiated wholesale revision of federal sentencing guidelines. This council was way ahead of the curve when it appointed a task force to address these issues and make recommendations.”

The report highlights task force accomplishments and activities since its inception in 2012, which include:

  • Analyzing and supporting mental health legislation
  • Developing rules of court that require judges to meet with justice partners to encourage them to adopt local protocols to deal with the mentally ill
  • Revising curriculum, presenting training, and providing resources and scripts for California judges and court staff to use in the courtroom
  • Meeting with law enforcement and other justice partners to explore ways to better work with court users and defendants with mental illness

In addition to its accomplishments, the task force’s final report also identifies unresolved challenges. The council agreed to direct the work still needed in this area to its appropriate advisory bodies.

Other items on the meeting agenda included:

Local Court Innovations: The council heard about two services helping to increase efficiency and access for court users of the Superior Court of Sacramento County. Judge James Mize explained his court’s One-Day Divorce program, which uses volunteer attorneys and law students to help expedite the process in qualifying divorce cases. He also highlighted the court’s Five Minute FOAHs (Formal Orders After Hearing) service that helps litigants receive enforceable court orders after their judgements in one day instead of weeks or even months later. The council also heard how courts are sharing ideas and making other technological improvements on a local and statewide level to make the court process more efficient.

2016 Legislative Priorities: The council approved its priorities for the 2016 legislative year, including advocating for a three-branch solution to ensure fair and efficient court fines and fees. The priorities also include support for new and reliable funding for the court system, new judgeships for communities most in need, and legislation to enable courts to improve their operational efficiency, including the implementation of proposed cost-savings and cost-recovery measures.

Request for Reserve Funding: The council approved a recommendation to loan $110,000 to the Superior Court of Humboldt County to offset anticipated costs resulting from a 200% increase in homicide cases. Those types of high-workload cases can increase facility costs, security needs, and court reporter fees. 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, including unavoidable funding shortfalls, unforeseen emergencies, and unanticipated expenses for existing programs.

Facilities Update—Cost-Benefit Report on Council Office Locations: The council received an update from Administrative Director Martin Hoshino’s decision to close the Judicial Council’s Burbank and other field offices. He based his decision on an independent cost-benefit analysis developed on a 10-year model for consolidating Judicial Council offices. Among the factors considered were cost savings, potential service disruptions, and maintenance of the level and quality of work produced by council staff. The council will retain an office in San Francisco and Sacramento; consolidate its two Sacramento offices; close its Burbank office by June 30, 2017; and seek to close its Real Estate and Facilities Management’s field offices as leases expire.

First Council Meeting Available by Video
At the beginning of the meeting today, Justice Douglas Miller, chair of the council’s Executive and Planning Committee, announced the council meeting was being videocast for the first time. “The move to live video is all about transparency and accessibility,” he said. “It’s also about remote access, as in the Chief’s Access3D initiative—making access physical, remote, and equal.”

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