Supervising Judge Matthew J. Gary Warns Family Court Problems Will Get Worse - Court Services To Be Slashed to "Core Functions"In an address to the Sacramento County Bar Association Family Law Section, Family Court Judge Matthew Gary admitted that the conditions in Family Court continue to deteriorate, and are now worse than the conditions which last year led to national news coverage by the New York Times.
Gary, the supervising family law and probate judge, spoke at the February family law luncheon held by and for family law attorneys. According to an account of the event in The Family Law Counselor, the newsletter of the Sacramento County Bar Association Family Law Section, Gary revealed that...
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- Front Counter: At one point the court was operating with only 2 to 3 front counter windows open. The wait times routinely exceeded 5 hours to file or obtain documents. At times, litigants arrived in the morning, waited all day, and were then asked to leave at closing time before being served. The court transferred staff from other facilities (no easy task) to Family Law to partially address the crisis.
- The court opened an additional “drop box" in which litigants may drop a pleading rather than waiting in line to file. However, dropping a pleading in the box is not the equivalent of filing the pleading. The pleading is filed when the drop box is cleared and the clerk, in fact, files the pleading. At times, clearing the drop box is delayed for days, and even weeks, for lack of staff resources.
- Court phones are shut off at noon for lack of staff to field calls.
- The branch law library was closed.
- The computer room at the Self-Help Center was closed.
- The Self-Help Center itself is now serving 10,000 fewer litigants than in past years due to the lack of resources.
- The court no longer pulls retention or related files for hearings because of the lack of staff in the court’s records unit. This means the court routinely does not have the entire file for review at a hearing.
Court Watchdogs Blame Budget Problems Partly On Judge-Attorney Cronyism
Critics of the court - including a self-represented litigant who spoke without attribution because his case is still pending in the court and he feared retaliation - point out that an audit of the court conducted in 2010 showed the court spends public funds on court-appointed attorneys for minors.
“Several judges routinely appoint attorney friends and cronies as minors counsel. The attorneys are paid by the county with funds that could be going to court services and staffing, like the Self-Help Center, courthouse law library and staffing at the public counter to cut down the outrageous wait times,” the litigant said. “Judges are funneling public funds to private attorneys.”
The 2010 state audit also found that court administrators did not verify that minors counsel applications submitted by attorneys in private practice met government standards. “[T]here was no evidence to indicate that the court requested documentation supporting the information in their applications or that they met the other standards established by local rule,” the state auditor report said.
Public Services To Be Cut To "Core Functions"
At the February luncheon, Gary warned the attorneys that family court conditions will get worse, much worse, before they get better:
The Family Law Division is now in the process of drawing back to “core function.” We will identify “core functions” and eliminate the rest. For each core function, we will examine each process and revise to achive a lean, linear, operation. When we come out on the other side of all this, we will not be the same. Services once offered will be gone. “The way we used to do it” will no longer exist. Unfortunately, there will be significant casualties along the way. This is the reality. But we at the court are determined to make the best of each opportunity that comes our way and to see it through.
|Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.|
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