The San Francisco Superior Court is closing courtrooms due to budget restraints. It has been stated that it may take up to five years for a trial date. Court staff is being laid off.

The AOC has told the local courts that budgets must be slashed.

Mediation grant programs for funding Alternative Dispute Resolution programs have dried up and local mediators are being asked to provide pro bono services.

California’s courts are about to suffer a record budget blow, preparing to absorb $350 million in cuts this fiscal year and an equally harsh reduction projected for next year.

Oakland attorneys are questioning if they want to do cases in San Francisco. The question is what will happen in Alameda County as all courts are being cut.

The presiding judge in San Joaquin County has stated dramatic changes will begin Oct. 3. The Tracy branch will close altogether and one of two courtrooms in Lodi will close. There will be no dedicated court for small claims cases. In balancing the state’s budget, legislators slashed $350 million from the judicial branch, hitting courts throughout the state.

Judge Robin Appel also states “It is almost incomprehensible that an entire branch of government is being forced to eliminate the basic fundamental right of people to have access to the courts,” Appel said. “The bottom line is that the public will be left with an inadequate system of justice.”

Civil mediation panels with local ADR programs are feeling the changes with little or no funding and high demand.

As we all know mediation does work and in Tuoulumne County Superior Court 76% of the small claims cases referred to mediation have settled.

I keep looking for the silver lining, and litigation continues in every state courthouse and perhaps the timing is an opportunity to have a open discussion about many layers within the judicial system that will allow some major relief to the public.

Is it a time to discuss a larger role for para legals working arm and arm with the legal community as a partnership to take on additional assignments such as Probate? Or Real Estate? Or Personal Injury?

Will private judges play a larger role?
Will insurance companies have a increased settlement role as time is money?.
Will Mediation & Arbitration be in demand due to 2-5 year delays?.

It is my thought that during this painful unknown period one of the key roles of the parties is to reach towards consensus and settlement through mediation and allow the market to create demand and services of ADR within each judicial branch.

It is my belief that the public will seek faster relief, at minimal cost, and the California Superior Courts should consider creative and effective programs that are cost effective.

The legal community also has a major role in shaping California’s future in the California court system.

by Jim Hildreth
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Jim W Hildreth is a California mediator who mediates in the courts and in the private sector. He is based in Oakland & Sonora, CA.