Posted September 2, 2016
As we approach the end of my two-year term as Presiding Judge, I would like to report on new initiatives that we are implementing, and, in light of our 24% continuing budget shortage, where we currently stand in San Mateo County.
Our Court continues to provide essential judicial services for our citizens, i.e., ensuring that due process and other constitutional protections are provided in criminal cases and civil disputes, and in the administration of traffic, juvenile, family, probate and conservatorship cases. Draconian budget cuts and the lack of adequate funding over the last eight years have forced the consolidation of nearly all adult operations in Redwood City and the elimination of 130 or 1/3rd of our employee positions; however, in the last year and a half, through innovation and incremental funding restorations, we have nevertheless been able to:
- Increase the number of criminal trials assigned out by assigning one and sometimes two jury trials per week to the judges who had been hearing only felony preliminary hearings in the South San Francisco courthouse (over 200 criminal trials were assigned out in 2015);
- Increase the number of civil trials assigned out (over 100 civil trials were assigned out in 2015);
- Implement, in 2015, the newly enacted requirements of Proposition 47 and Military Diversion;
- Begin implementing a "Laura's Law" calendar for Assisted Outpatient Treatment; and,
- "Go live" with a new case management computer system for criminal cases (2015) and civil, juvenile and traffic cases (2016) which will, we hope, allow us to start down a path towards a "paperless" court.
Incremental funding restoration has resulted in an improvement in our financial position. At this point, we are "only" down 24% in the funding that we need to administer our caseload, as compared to approximately 37% in FY 2013/2014. Yet we are, as are all the courts in California, being asked to do more, albeit with less. The courts are being asked to take an even more active role in the attempt to increase the prospect of rehabilitation. The courts have been asked to create "collaborative" courts and use statistically proven "evidence-based" practices to reduce recidivism and decrease jail and prison populations.
San Mateo County was already well ahead of the curve in instituting collaborative courts. For many years we had been providing a Domestic Violence Review Court, a Pathways Mental Health Court, a "Bridges" Court, a Drug Court, and, more recently, a Veterans Treatment Court. Building upon these programs, and notwithstanding our lack of full funding, our Court, in conjunction with our justice partners, is stretching even further to provide collaborative courts. During 2015 and 2016, San Mateo County has instituted, or will soon implement, the following new programs/courts:
- Misdemeanor Diversion Court (2015) If arrested for one of many common misdemeanors, a defendant with no prior felony convictions, and no prior misdemeanor conviction within 10 years, may, if no further offenses are committed, take rehabilitative classes, pay a fine, perform 20 hours of community service, and have the criminal case dismissed.
- DUI Intensive Supervision Court (2016) The number of people killed as a result of driving under the influence ("DUI") in California is a tragedy. In 2014, there were 882 DUI deaths in California, more than two per day, and the numbers appear to be rising. Henceforth in San Mateo County, any person convicted of DUI, who has had a prior conviction for DUI, after completing their jail term, will be subject to 6 months of intensive probation supervision, and will be required to wear an alcohol detection device and appear in court monthly, to help reduce the number of alcohol related deaths.
- Restitution Court (2016) Victims of criminal conduct are entitled to restitution for the losses they suffer. To better ensure that individuals and businesses, particularly small businesses, receive the restitution to which they are entitled, convicted defendants who are ordered to pay restitution, and have the resources to do so, will be closely monitored by our Probation Department, will be required to appear in court, and will be subject to further sanctions if restitution is not being paid.
- Court Alternatives for the Mentally Ill ("CAMI") (2016) Often people with mental health issues are repeatedly arrested for criminal conduct. After their arrest, these offenders sometimes spend an inordinate amount of time in county jail when doubts of their competency to stand trial are raised, necessitating time-consuming evaluations. With this CAMI program, arrested defendants who can be safely held in a non-jail setting are brought back before the court 5 days after their initial arraignment so that our Behavioral Health and Recovery Services and the Probation Department can present a plan for their safe release.
Several factors have allowed us to make these changes:
- Incremental Budget Restorations- While cumulative budget reductions ultimately resulted in the elimination of 130 employee positions since 2008, the Court's funding gap improved from a high of 37% in July of 2013 to a current gap of 24% to process our workload. This improvement was a result of a combination of State funding restorations, internal efficiencies, as well as a decline in court filings. Funding restorations led to the restoration of 25 employee positions, almost half of which are considered temporary, due to Prop 47 funding, salary savings and grants as mentioned below.
- Grant Opportunities- Three of the 25 positions that we have been able to restore are temporary positions made possible only through grants. Without these grants, we would not have been able to "add-back" our fourth Commissioner and staff, and would not have been able to staff our collaborative courts.
- Term Employment Program- Due to our successful negotiations with our labor unions, we were able to implement a term-employment program, which has allowed us to fill certain vacancies for a one-year term, and therefore restore positions at 18% less cost, due to lower pension costs. Our term program also includes opportunities for the one-year term to be extended and/or the employee to be converted to regular status, as funding allows.
- Our SMC Justice Partners- The collaboration between San Mateo County leadership and agencies and the Court is second to none. From the Board of Supervisors, our Sheriff, our District Attorney and our Private Defender Program, to our Probation Department and our Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, the Court has been blessed with partners who have been more than willing to support the work of the Court for the benefit of the citizens of SMC.
- Extraordinary Court Personnel- Court personnel, working together, have become more efficient and productive at all levels. Judges and court employees have had to work longer hours, and take on new and additional responsibilities. Judges, court reporters, interpreters, courtroom clerks and clerk's office staff are incessantly moved from one courtroom to another, or from one division of the Clerk's Office to another, to plug gaps and staff shortages caused by the continuing budget cuts. We are extremely proud to say that our court personnel have done so graciously, and have still managed to earn high praise for their efficiency, and excellent attitudes, in their interactions with the public.
The incremental budget restorations that we have thus far received will not allow us to return to the days when we were "current", when we could assure litigants that we would have a staffed courtroom for all hearings and cases on the trial calendar. Those days are gone until such time as essential trial court funding is restored and our 24% funding gap eliminated. To return to those days, it will take recognition by the Governor and the Legislature that a democracy cannot function without an independent judicial branch.
A judicial branch that is dependent upon the whims of the Governor's annual budget will not support an independent judiciary. Judges are not politicians, by Constitutional design. We have no constituency that can promise campaign contributions or voting blocks in return for budgetary favor. As the impartial and independent interpreter of California law, the judicial branch should never be required to annually "lobby" the Governor or the Legislature.
California provides approximately 1.4% of its budget to fund the judicial branch. Many other states provide between 2 and 3%. Our Court Executive Officer and I have gone to see our elected representatives, to explain the delays and injustice caused by the failure to fully fund the courts. We have also had our representatives tour our courts to see first-hand how underfunding and understaffing have hurt the people who seek help from the courts. I have been told repeatedly by our elected representatives that the Governor and the Legislature will not be persuaded to adequately fund the judicial branch by the arguments presented "merely" by Judges. It has even been repeatedly suggested to me that the Court should stop talking about our financial difficulties in staffing our courts.
If you have not been involved in a court proceeding delayed because of court funding shortages, you probably know someone who has. In California, as of June 27, 2016, court funding cuts have forced the closure of 48 courthouses and 191 courtrooms in 32 counties. As of 2013, the last date that such figures were available, collaborative (problem-solving) courts were eliminated in 18 counties, and small claims hearings were reduced or eliminated in at least 10 counties. In San Mateo County, we have been forced to close and/or drastically suspend operations in our South San Francisco and San Mateo Branch Courts, cut our public clerk-access hours and phone hours substantially, and have had to eliminate 130 staff positions while restoring only 25 positions, some of which are temporary . Many criminal trials have had to be continued, while civil trials often must be set, and reset, repeatedly. Delays in providing critical self-help services to unrepresented litigants, as well as delays in criminal, civil, child custody, family law and traffic matters, means justice is delayed, and to that extent denied, in San Mateo County just as it is across the state.
The Governor and the Legislature have not restored court funding to adequate levels, and have not responded to the pleas of the courts. The judicial branch must certainly participate in the economic downturns of our economy, but in the years since the "Great Recession" the state has had unexpected surpluses, and has been willing and able to set aside "rainy day" funds, without restoring court funding. There is no reason why justice should continue to suffer in this state due to underfunding.
The courts are not an "agency". Our courts settle disputes. Our courts protect children and crime victims. Our courts ensure that persons accused of crimes are given their constitutional, due process rights. Our courts must be able to do so without political or financial pressure. Independent courts are an essential part of our democracy. Courts cannot maintain that independence if they are forced to lobby for essential funding on an annual basis. A fixed percentage of the California budget, i.e., at least 2%, or two cents of every dollar given to government, should be guaranteed annually to our third, equal, branch of government, in order that our courts may continue to protect our basic civil rights.
It is the public who will have to insist on justice and an independent judiciary. Please contact Governor Brown at https://govnews.gov.ca.gov/gov39mail/mail.php, and your Senators and Assembly Members. Tell them that you want them to restore full funding to the courts. In the meantime, all San Mateo County Superior Court personnel will continue to do our best to provide essential legal services to our citizens, to the greatest extent that funding allows.
John L. Grandsaert, Presiding Judge
Posted September 23, 2014
On behalf of the San Mateo County Superior Court I wish to thank the countless members of our community who wrote letters, made phone calls, and lobbied the Governor and Legislature to restore funding to the trial courts. Although the recently passed state budget did not provide the level of fiscal relief we had hoped, it will save some jobs and preserve access to justice that would have otherwise been lost.
Unprecedented state budget cuts to the judicial branch over the past six years have been devastating to all California trial courts. Since 2008, over one billion dollars has been cut from the judicial branch. Partial restoration in the past two years (just over 10% in true restoration dollars) remains woefully inadequate to sustain all essential court services.
Throughout the state, Presiding Judges continue to speak out about the severe losses for state trial courts, our workforce and critical access to justice.
- In Los Angeles, Judge Wesley stated, "The fact is this year's state budget is a disaster for access to justice."
- In Sacramento, Judge Hight stated, "We are operating, but we're not serving the public very well."
- Recently, Santa Clara announced they will reduce their workforce by over 35% and close more courtrooms. Judge Walsh stated, "Unfortunately, the new trial court budget will lead to more courtroom closures, longer lines and greater delays in obtaining vital court orders."
- And we hear the same from San Diego, Shasta, Contra Costa, Fresno, Solano, Santa Barbara, Merced and other trial courts that plan to make further reductions.
Here in San Mateo, we foresaw the potential effect of these reductions as early as 2007 - and we took action. Our judges and administrative leadership, together with our court staff, have worked diligently and in partnership with our unions and justice agencies to effectively utilize technology, create efficiencies and savings, and consolidate our workforce to provide the best trial court services possible with the resources available.
At their highest point, state cuts necessitated reductions of over 33% of our San Mateo Superior Court workforce. Our reductions totaled 130 positions; in 2008 we had 385, in the 2013/14 fiscal year we were at 255. These ongoing cuts have caused us to shutter court houses and centralize services to Redwood City, lay off staff and Commissioners, reduce calendars, and cut public counter and phone hours.
We purposefully implemented court service reductions in incremental steps, intending to soften the loss of important services even as we worked hard to avoid them. These actions have been extremely difficult - we did not want to take them - but we have communicated them openly and well in advance, acted responsibly and are living within the limits of our reduced state funding support. With much hard work, we have successfully restored six court staff positions this July.
At the San Mateo Superior Court, we work with and for each other to achieve justice. Our disposition rate per judicial position (the number of court cases resolved per judicial officer) remains consistently among the highest for state trial courts. We remain committed to continuous improvement, creating efficiencies and effectively utilizing technology to maximize our productivity and court services, to benefit the public we all serve.
This said, we continue to face significant internal and external challenges to providing essential justice. Six restored positions cannot cover the workload of the 130 that have been lost - even after all reasonable efficiencies and productivity measures are accounted for. This means that until reasonable levels of trial court funding are restored, some level of delay will almost certainly continue. Our lines will remain long, our hours open to the public remain reduced and the public will continue to experience significant delays. A number of areas in our Clerk's Office remain stretched as we continuously work to allocate our workforce where it is most needed.
Externally, many of our neighboring courts are faced with the challenges of further reducing services and the Judicial Branch as a whole is faced with another year of failing to effectively convince state leaders to provide essential court funding. As a result, justice remains at risk state-wide. The fact remains that we've received back too little of what has been taken from the Judicial Branch through severe, disproportionate state cuts that have continued since 2008 and, as a result, our trial courts remain dangerously under-funded.
Trial courts protect public rights, public freedom and public safety. They are relied upon to provide essential services and support for individuals, families and our community. I urge everyone to remain vigilant in reminding state lawmakers that a strong economy relies on a judicial system that works. Your continued support is essential as we strive to seek appropriate funding levels for the court.
Robert D Foiles, Presiding Judge
To Members of the Court Community:
Over the past three years our court, along with all of the courts throughout California, has experienced drastic State budget cuts that have caused the court to reduce court services to the public. Over the next two years, our court anticipates additional revenue reductions that will further impact the public's access to the courts. In order to provide an open process and information to all court users our court has developed a proposed plan that would reduce our court services to the level of our anticipated budget.
Attached to this message is a slide presentation (please refer to the current Presiding Judge's message for the most updated information) that describes our budget situation, actions we have taken to-date and our proposed plan going forward if current State cuts are not eliminated.
In late September, we shared this slide presentation with our County justice partners, elected officials and police chiefs. We are purposefully sharing this information well in advance of proposed actions so that we can work with all in our court community to restore funding and minimize these actions, if at all possible.
We fervently hope that the State's revenue picture changes and that we do not have to implement any of these proposals. However, we believe that careful planning and input will allow our court to continue to provide the best court services possible under our severe budget constraints.
Presiding Judge Beth Labson Freeman
Happy New Year! I'd like to start off by welcoming the court's newest judicial officer, the Honorable Don R. Franchi, to the bench. Judge Franchi comes to us with a number of years of family law experience and he is a welcome addition to the court.
I also wanted to address how the court is managing itself during this challenging fiscal period. We anticipate having significant (in some cases, unprecedented) financial challenges in 2009 and, most likely, 2010. This said, our court has been preparing for these challenges since early 2008 and have, so far, absorbed state-mandated budget cuts. I believe that we can weather the challenges of the future by continuing to plan strategically. Current budgetary issues have presented all of us with a need to do "more with significantly less" this year. In anticipation of the current resource reductions, we are holding open a number of vacant positions in all of the divisions within the court and we've undertaken a number of efforts to reduce spending while minimizing any negative impact to the public that we serve. Our court has continuously strived to improve our service while reducing related costs and I'm confident that our strategic planning will successfully meet the challenges of these trying times.
A few months ago, almost six hundred court users completed a survey telling us about their experiences in court. I am pleased to report that for the third successive year our 2008 Public Access and Fairness survey results show that we've improved our scores - and they were already very positive in 2006 and 2007. We are the only court in the state that has facilitated these surveys for three years and I can say with statistical certainty that we're a strong court that is getting stronger. Our trend of continuous improvement is all the more impressive when considering the significant budget cuts we successfully absorbed this year. We are improving our levels of service to the public while reducing our related costs to taxpayers. This enviable achievement positions our court well as we face both current and future challenges.
Here at the court, we work with and for each other to achieve justice; the court is the third branch of government and we are committed to serving the public. To that end, we will continue to offer a number of self-help services for those who need assistance at the court, we will strive to provide excellent customer service, and we will work closely with our justice partners to weather this financial crisis.
In 2007, our court developed a Strategic Plan so that we may continue to provide innovative and cost-effective programs to the citizens of San Mateo County. In 2008, we plan to implement as many of the short-term goals as possible that are outlined in the Strategic Plan. We have also begun work on the long-term goals as well.
A number of our goals for 2008 revolve around increasing services or programs to better meet the needs of the community. We have launched two new workshops to help people learn about the court process. Held on Mondays at 1:30 at the law library in Redwood City (across the street from the courthouse), they are great opportunities to learn about the court. We are also expanding our self-help services to include a program to help landlords and tenants in eviction cases. Information about both of those programs will be forthcoming on this website. Another improvement is the upgrade to the complex litigation courthouse in San Mateo. By taking a building built in the 1960's into the digital age, we will be better positioned to hear complex litigation cases. Upgrades include a small remodel of the courtrooms and new technological services like wireless Internet access and exhibit presentation equipment.
Another of our goals was to expand our Bridges and Pathways programs. To that end, I am happy to report that we have now linked our highly successful Bridges drug and alcohol treatment program with our new mental health court, Pathways. As some offenders have combined drug and alcohol dependency and mental health problems, we have assigned Judge Mark R. Forcum to oversee both programs. This allows for more flexible placement of offenders in each program and helps ensure that they receive effective treatment with the ultimate goal of reducing recidivism. Both Bridges and Pathways are expanding in size and this, in turn, helps reduce the number of offenders in the county jail. A long-standing goal has been to address jail capacity issues in the San Mateo County jail. We will continue to work collaboratively with our criminal justice partners and the Board of Supervisors in addressing those issues along with a variety of new state proposals that may affect San Mateo County.
To continue to provide the best possible level of service to the community and members of the Bar, Assistant Presiding Judge Stephen M. Hall and I will be meeting every Friday morning with each section of our County's Bar Association. As always, we welcome your suggestions and constructive ideas. Please feel free to send your comments and thoughts by clicking here.
I wish you all a happy and constructive 2008.
Robert D Foiles, Presiding Judge
Welcome to San Mateo Superior Court's e-court website. Here, you can take care of your traffic ticket, complete and deliver court forms directly to the court, look up information about a court case, check your status for jury duty, use the virtual self-help center to prepare for your hearing, read a high school case study based on an actual criminal case, and more.
We designed our court website to be user-friendly. We are always adding new features and e-court upgrades to make the court more accessible for you. It is our hope that you will find this website to be a convenient way to take care of court business and learn more about the court process. Thank you for visiting and we encourage you to come back often.
Welcome to the San Mateo County Superior Court Website. Our goal is to provide the best level of service to the public. We hope to accomplish this goal by providing user-friendly information and services on this webpage. Using the Court's site, you can handle some traffic matters, complete your legal forms, find out about jury duty, walk through a criminal case study, and more.
We are constantly adding to this site to assist you with your court needs. We welcome your comments and thank you for your interest in the San Mateo County Superior Court.
Welcome to www.sanmateocourt.org, the Superior Court of California, County of San Mateo's website.
The Court will soon offer two interactive programs that will allow users to conduct court business 24 hours a day, seven days per week. The first will allow the public to begin the process of filling out some of the paperwork for a divorce or separation, spousal support, child custody & support, and paternity. The second is an interactive traffic program that will allow the public to pay their traffic tickets, schedule a court appearance, or register for traffic school. Instead of standing in line to take care of their business, they can do so on-line.
The Court has also added a new service. We have opened another Children's Waiting Room (CWR), this time at the Juvenile Branch. The juvenile CWR will be open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 8:00-12:00 and 1:00-4:30. The CWR at the Hall of Justice has been very successful: from its opening in February, 1999 to June, 2001, we have hosted over 1900 children!
Please be advised that the Hall of Justice is currently undergoing seismic retrofitting to bring the building into compliance with current seismic building standards. The retrofit work has already been completed for the third, fourth and sixth floors. The seventh floor will be completed by January, 2002. Once the seventh floor is finished, the eighth floor will be closed for retrofit, and its occupants will be temporarily relocated. The judges' directory will be continually updated to reflect these changes.
On behalf of the judiciary, court administration, and court staff I encourage you to use this site to learn more about the Court. Whether you are preparing for a case, a school assignment, or "just surfing," this site will provide you with valuable information. Thank you for visiting.
I am bringing this message to you on behalf of all of the judges in San Mateo County Superior Court. We value the trust and confidence the public gives us. We want this website to further our communication with the public.
With the consolidation of the Municipal and Superior Courts in 1996 and their unification under Proposition 220 on June 12, 1998, we have been working to find better and more efficient ways to serve you. We merged the executive and administration offices of the two courts to establish one office. The civil and criminal divisions are now consolidated and small claims and traffic operations at the court branches remain the same.
The Court has established this Web site as a means to provide information to the community. We are working to establish Probate Tentative Rulings on the Website by the end of July. In 1998, we established a Small Claims Website through a partnership between the Court and the Administrative Office of the Courts. This site provides access to local small claims court information relevant to all the counties in the state. The Court was awarded the prestigious Ralph N. KLEPS Award for its effort in establishing this Website. The site can be reached at: http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/trial/smallclaims.
In 1999, our Community Outreach and Strategic Planning Committee submitted a report after holding more than twenty forums throughout the county. This was a very exciting part of the project. The information gathered from the 400 people who participated in the forums was used to prepare a Strategic Plan. A brochure has been prepared summarizing the information that was gathered and it can be obtained by calling (650) 599-1519. Information on the Community Outreach and Strategic Planning Committee, its work, and the Strategic Plan is published on this Website.
We have remodeled the jury assembly rooms in Redwood City and South San Francisco and installed some personal computers for prospective jurors to use while waiting to be called to court. The role of citizens as jurors is often a difficult and demanding one. We want to recognize the contribution of citizens who are called to jury duty and perform such a necessary function in the court system.
The Children's Waiting Room is open in the Hall of Justice. It is a bright, welcoming kid-friendly place. More information on its staffing, hours of operations, and use eligibility is available on the Children's Waiting Room section of this website.
Drug Court has been expanded to South San Francisco and to Juvenile Court in San Mateo. The goal of Drug Court is to help low-level offenders escape the tyranny of illegal drugs and to become productive members of our community.
We have developed a Day Treatment Program called Bridges and will implement a pilot version this year. The Bridges Program is a partnership involving the Court, the Sheriff's Department, the County Office of Education, the Probation Department and community addiction treatment providers. It is an alternative-to-incarceration program and is designed primarily for defendants in custody for drug offenses. Some of these defendants have failed in Drug Court or are back in custody for probation violations. Individuals will participate in an intensive day treatment program that combines intensive alcohol and drug treatment counseling, with vocational and educational components, which includes cognitive skills training.
Judicial council forms are now available on our Website in a continuing effort to assist members of the public who, for whatever reason, represent themselves in the court system.
In closing, I would like to remind you that the Court welcomes visitors. Court proceedings are open to the public and you are welcome to sit in on any of the sessions.
I am bringing this message to you on behalf of all of the judges in San Mateo County Superior Court.
With the consolidation of the Municipal and Superior Courts 1996 and their unification under Proposition 220 on June 12, 1998, we have been working to find better and more efficient ways to serve you. We merged the executive and administration offices of the two courts to establish one office. The Civil and criminal divisions are now consolidated and small claims and traffic operations at the court branches remain the same.
A computerized case management system that will adapt to civil, family law, probate, small claims, juvenile dependency and juvenile delinquency is being started this fall. The system will replace an old system that could not be made Y2K compliant and was not able to provide management of cases that the law now requires. The new case management system will enhance the court's ability to provide more efficient services in these areas.
In the fall of 1997, the court established this Web site as a means to provide information to the community. We are working to establish Probate Tentative Rulings on the web site by the end of July. In 1998, we established a Small Claims Web site through a partnership between the court and the Administrative Office of the Courts. This site provides access to local small claims court information relevant to all the counties in the state. The court was awarded the prestigious Ralph N. KLEPS Award for its effort in establishing this Web site. The site can be reached at: http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/trial/smallclaims.
The court established the Community Outreach and Strategic Planning Committee last spring to gather ideas from the community and various court constituency groups about the future direction for the court. Judges Marta Diaz chairs the committee and the other members are: Judge Linda Gemello, Dr. Cecil Reeves, Human Resources Administrator for the San Mateo County Office of Education, the Supervisor Richard Gordon, Pat Brown, Executive Director of the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center, Attorney William Nagle, and Peggy Thompson, Court Executive Officer.
The committee held more than twenty forums throughout the county. This was a very exciting part of the project and the information gathered from the 400 people who participated in the forums is being used to prepare a Strategic Plan. A brochure has been prepared summarizing the information that was gathered and it can be obtained by calling (650) 363-4188. The committee is working with the Judges to finalize the new Strategic Plan by the end of the summer. Information on the Community Outreach and Strategic Planning Committee, its work, and the Strategic Plan is published on this web site.
We are remodeling the jury assembly rooms in Redwood City and South San Francisco. We will install some personal computers for prospective jurors to use while waiting to be called to court.
Planning for a children's waiting room in the Hall of Justice is underway. This facility will allow families to leave their children in an appropriately staffed and furnished room while they are involved with any aspect of court related business.
Drug Court is being expanded to South San Francisco and we are establishing a Juvenile Drug Court at the Juvenile Court in San Mateo. The goal of Drug Court is to help low-level offenders, escape the tyranny of illegal drugs and to become productive members of our community.
We have developed a Day Treatment Program called BRIDGES and will implement a pilot version this year. The Bridges Program is a partnership involving the Court, the Sheriff's Department, the County Office of Education, the Probation Department and community addiction treatment providers. It is an alternative to incarceration and is designed primarily for defendants in custody for drug offenses. Some of these defendants have failed in drug court or are back in custody for probation violations. Individuals will participate in a day treatment program combining intensive alcohol and drug treatment counseling, with vocational and educational components that will include cognitive skills training.
In closing, I would like to remind you the court welcomes visitors. Court proceedings are open to the public and you are welcome to sit in on any of the sessions.
Greetings from all of the judges of your San Mateo County Superior Court. If you are familiar with the courts you will notice that our name has once again changed. For many years the San Mateo Courts were divided into two separate entities, the Municipal Court and the Superior Court. The Municipal Court was a court of limited jurisdiction which meant that it dealt with misdemeanor criminal conduct and civil law suits asking for damages of $25,000 or less. The Superior Court handled felony criminal matters and civil law suits that sought damages of more than $25,000.
Several years ago, the Judicial Counsel and the legislature began to encourage all courts statewide to consolidate their Municipal and Superior Courts so that the courts would operate more efficiently. The San Mateo Courts began to coordinate their operations in 1995. In February of 1996, the administrative staffs of the Courts (it takes 355 people to support the courts in their work) were combined under the capable leadership of Chief Executive Officer, Peggy Thompson. The coordination of the courts worked so well that in 1997 the judges decided to combine the courts and rename them The Superior and Municipal Courts of San Mateo County. Coordination proved to be a great benefit to those who use the courts. It allowed superior court cases to be assigned to municipal court judges and vice versa. Workloads evened out, there were fewer continuances and more cases were processed. For proof of this fact one need only compare the statistics for superior court trials for 1993 with those for 1997. In 1993 the court tried a total of 171 superior court cases and in 1997 a total of 228 superior court cases were tried.
In June of 1998 the voters passed Proposition 220 which allows the Superior and Municipal Courts of each county, on a majority vote of the judges, to "unify" into one Superior Court. On June 12, 1998, the judges of San Mateo County voted unanimously to unify. Therefore, San Mateo Municipal Court is no more. Your court is now known as the Superior Court of California, County of San Mateo. Unification will not change our operation much since we were already fully consolidated, but we will continue to look for ways to serve you more efficiently.
One of the first steps taken by the judges to make the court more user friendly was to create the position of Family Law Facilitator. Established in 1994 the Family Law Facilitator's, attorney Rita Mah, job is to assist people who do not have an attorney in understanding and working with the courts to obtain a dissolution of marriage, spousal or child support orders and visitation/custody orders. The program has been so successful that in 1997 the judges added another attorney, Monica Rands, as an assistant Family Law Facilitator. Click on the words Family Law or on Domestic Violence on the Court's home page and you will find that our Family Law Facilitators have provided a great deal of helpful information for you on these topics.
The Court runs two Drug Court calendars a week. These sessions incorporate professionals from all aspects of the criminal justice system in a discussion that leads to treatment plans tailored to the individual needs of qualifying defendants. This program helps low-level offenders escape the tyranny of illegal drugs and become productive members of our community. To date we have had 142 drug court "graduates".
Interested in mediating or arbitrating a dispute and avoiding a longer more costly trial in court? Click on Appropriate Dispute Resolution and discover alternatives to litigation. We even have an attorney on staff, Sheila Purcell who can help you choose the most suitable way to achieve a resolution of your disagreement.
This spring the court established a Community Outreach and Strategic Planning Committee. The committee consists of Judges Marta Diaz and Linda Gemello, Dr. Cecil Reeves, Human Resources Administrator for the San Mateo County Office of Education, The Hon. Richard Gordon, member of the Board of Supervisors, Pat Brown, Executive Director of the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center, Attorney William Nagle and Peggy Thompson, Executive Director of the Court. The Outreach Committee has planned a series of public forums to discuss how the courts can better meet the needs of the people. The first public meeting was held in East Palo Alto. Committee members listened as the citizens voiced their feelings about the court and the far reaching impact it has on their lives. Would you like to participate in this process? Click on Community Outreach and Strategic Planning (available shortly) and learn when and where the next public forums will be.
If funding allows we will soon establish a Family Law Help Center. The center will have legal forms available, computers and volunteer attorneys to furnish even greater assistance to family law litigants who cannot hire an attorney themselves. We are also working on improving accommodations for jurors so that participating in that civic duty is a more pleasant experience.
You are invited to visit our web site on a regular basis to see what your courts are accomplishing. We also invite you to visit us in person, sit in on a trial, see a criminal arraignment, and learn what your courts are all about. Let us know what your think!
IThe San Mateo County Courts continuing consolidation efforts are working extremely well. Ultimately, consolidation gives the Court a flexible mechanism to ensure trial departments are available to those cases that must go to trial.
For example, in the criminal area, the felony trials supervised by Criminal Presiding Judge H. James Ellis are current. All felony cases where counsel have announced "ready for trial" have been assigned trial departments and absolutely no backlog of cases exists. Court consolidation's greatest impact has been on the civil trial calendar. In January, there were 58 civil jury trials which had been continued at least once for lack of a courtroom. By mid-June, this number had been reduced to 15. In addition, the Court is trying a significant number of civil trials on their first setting. My hope is that by the end of the year we will have reduced our entire backlog so that only first sets will appear on the trial calendar.
Integration on Civil Calendar
The integration of the San Mateo Civil Calendar has also been a success. Judge George A. Miram has implemented a Case Management system which is consistent with our Superior Court system and which is designed to reduce Court appearances and expense to counsel and their clients. The help we have received from the Bar has contributed to our ability to handle this civil caseload. I would like to thank all members of the Bar who have continued to volunteer their time as Judge pro tems, particularly those lawyers who help by hearing unlawful detainer court trials in both Redwood City and South San Francisco.
Innovative New Domestic Violence Review Court
I am also happy to report that our new Domestic Violence Court appears to be a success. The Court was developed by a team from the Criminal Justice community with active participation from the District Attorney, Court and Probation Departments. Overseen by Family Law Judges John W. Runde and Richard C. Livermore, defendants sentenced in domestic violence cases are required to come back to court at regular intervals to show proof that they have enrolled in and are participating in mandated domestic violence counseling. Our statistics had shown that a significant number of probation violations stemmed from a defendant's failure to enroll or stay in these counseling programs. Our goal is to reduce probation violations and new crimes of domestic violence. Initial reports show that approximately 80% of defendants are enrolling in these programs within two weeks.
The federal grant which funds this program funds five new probation officers, all of whom are assigned to supervise domestic violence offenders. In addition, the grant funds a domestic violence counseling program within the county jail, which is the first program of its kind in Northern California.
An Outstanding Criminal Justice System
Having been involved with the Criminal Justice System in San Mateo County for over 15 years, I would like to once again observe that our county is unique in its ability to effectively manage its criminal calendar and develop innovative programs to address significant social problems such as domestic violence and substance abuse. The San Mateo County Drug Court was built by a team of Criminal Justice professionals, including Deputy DA's, Private Defender attorneys, Judges, Probation Officers, Sheriff's officers, OR Program caseworkers, and members of the Criminal Justice Council. It is an outstanding example of a program that is an alternative to incarceration that does not jeopardize public safety. Programs like this, and the Court's ability to efficiently manage its criminal cases so that no backlog exists, save significant taxpayer dollars on a daily basis by avoiding costly jail incarceration expenditures.
Hon. Mark R. Forcum
Presiding Judge Superior & Municipal Courts
San Mateo County