This issue of the Contra Costa Lawyer coincides with some welcome developments at the Contra Costa Superior Court. In October 2015, Presiding Judge Austin and I announced that the court is now able to restore some services that had been cut back in response to a series of drastic reductions in state court funding during the last few years. Services being restored include the following:
- Extending Clerk’s Office hours by two hours to 3 p.m. each business day (except for Traffic, which remains open until 4 p.m.), effective November 1, 2015.
- Reestablishing Traffic Night Court two evenings per month in Walnut Creek beginning in November. This provides an option for those who need to address traffic-related cases after work hours. The court intends to look for ways to extend night court to other courthouses in the county during the coming year.
- Eliminating partial court closure days. Last fiscal year, due to budgetary limitations, the court was closed to the public, except for minimum-required operations, for four days. This partial closure allowed the court to furlough staff and reduce costs. This year, the Contra Costa Superior Court will remain open for all official court business days.
The court is able to take these important incremental steps as a result of much hard work by the bench, staff and management. As articles in this edition reflect, the court is revising operations and court services in various areas such as the management of court calendars, jury services, the court clerk’s offices, the implementation of specialty courts such as Truancy Court and Laura’s Law, and the establishment of innovative programs such as the Drug and Domestic Violence Intensive Support programs.
Through reengineering of services, the implementation of new technologies and the creative redeployment of resources, Contra Costa Superior Court is finding new ways to provide the public access to justice as efficiently and effectively as possible.
These positive actions should not be understood as signaling that our court’s resource challenges are now over, though. As discussed in prior Contra Costa Lawyer articles, the Contra Costa Superior Court has experienced a drastic diminution in resources during the last few years, which have had severe impacts on court operations.
For example, the court employed approximately 24 percent more staff in 2008 than it currently does. The initial result of these reductions were longer lines, delays and filing backlogs, as well as reduced hours, fewer public windows and consolidation of services in fewer locations—including the closing of the Concord Courthouse and various courtrooms.
By reengineering ways in which the court serves the public and legal professionals, we have begun to address long lines and delays in various areas such as the Civil Clerks’ Office, and the processing of traffic infractions. Other areas of challenge remain, though, and we are now focusing attention on improving the utilization of jurors, improving jurors’ experience and reducing delays for family mediation services, among various other needs.
Our court staff members have been real troopers during the funding crisis, despite having been hard pressed during the last half dozen years of downsizing, furloughs and no pay increases. However, due to our staff deficit, we now have minimal backup relief staff for positions such as courtroom clerks and court reporters. As a result, it has become much more difficult to schedule staff vacations and to cover for absences without causing courtrooms to go dark.
Despite these concerns, the court’s employees have been a critical ingredient in our efforts to restore services to court users. Instead of complaining, our staff has taken on the work of revamping services and operations with great zeal and enthusiasm. But without adequate relief, staff will eventually tire.
We, like other courts, continue to pursue needed financial help from Sacramento. Whether, when and how much help might eventually come cannot be determined at this time. But we are not just sitting around waiting for new funding. Instead, we are working to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and quality of service provided to the public with the staff and money that we have.
Stephen Nash serves as the Executive Officer of the Superior Court of Contra Costa County. Prior to his current appointment, he served as the Executive Officer for the Superior Court of San Bernardino County, and before that, as the Chief Financial Officer for the California Administrative Office of the Courts.
Filed Under: Inside