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News for, and by, our local legal community, curated and created by the Santa Clara County Bar. The opinions expressed in this blog are the authors' own and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Santa Clara County Bar Association, its members, its employees, or its governing board.


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Federal Judge Blocks Release of Videos by Anti-Abortion Group

Posted By Administration, Monday, August 3, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge has blocked the release of any recordings made at meetings of an abortion providers’ association by an anti-abortion group that previously revealed secretly recorded videos of aPlanned Parenthood leader.

Judge William Orrick issued a temporary restraining order on Friday against the Center for Medical Progress hours after the order was requested by the National Abortion Federation.

In his three-page order, Judge Orrick said the federation would likely suffer irreparable injury absent a temporary restraining order “in the form of harassment, intimidation, violence, invasion of privacy, and injury to reputation.”

The National Abortion Federation sued in federal court in San Francisco, alleging that the Center for Medical Progress infiltrated its meetings and recorded its members. The group says release of any audio or video would put members in danger.

“The safety and security of our members is our top priority,” Vicki Saporta, association president and chief executive, said in a statement. “That security has been compromised by the illegal activities of a group with ties to those who believe it is justifiable to murder abortion providers.”

Read the whole story at The NY Times

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California bar exam to be one day shorter, but could be just as difficult

Posted By Administration, Friday, July 31, 2015

California bar officials have voted to cut the length of the state’s bar exam from three days to two.

The change, approved unanimously Monday by the State Bar of California’s board of trustees, will take effect in July 2017, Above the Law reports.

The two-day exam will include one day of five one-hour essays and a 90-minute performance test, and one day spent on the 200-question multiple-choice Multistate Bar Exam. Each day will weigh equally in a test-taker’s final score.

As a practical matter, the most significant impact of the change will be on the performance test, according to Pepperdine University School of Law professor Derek Muller, who reported on the proposal (PDF) on his blog Excess of Democracy in March. California bar officials told the ABA Journal that currently, three-hour performance tests are given on two of the three days.

The change won’t necessarily make the state’s exam–considered by some to be the nation’s toughest–any easier, according to Muller. He said scores will presumably be recalibrated to reflect a comparable difficulty.

But it will make the test less grueling and less expensive to take. And it could speed up the state bar’s notoriously slow grading process, he said.

Updated with clarification from California bar officials on the current length of the performance tests.

Article reposted from ABA Journal

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Why Hollywood loves lawyers

Posted By Administration, Friday, July 31, 2015

Academy Award-winning actress and Harvard heartthrob Natalie Portman announces that she has signed on to do a biopic on the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and law lovers everywhere come to a halt—Bluebooks drop in mid cite-check, throats go dry at oral arguments, billable hours stop for a minute (actually, just a second), and court watchers turn off Judge Judy and long for selfies with the glamorous Portman dressed in a black robe.

Football is America’s game, but movies are its favorite form of entertainment. And movies about the law are as essential to Hollywood history as cowboy Westerns or romantic comedies. Heroism that acquits the falsely accused will hold its own against any nonstop action flick.

When the American Film Institute published its list “100 Years … 100 Heroes & Villains,” defense attorney Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird topped the list, beating out Indiana Jones and James Bond. Finch, however, didn’t need a whip or gadgets from Q to earn the title or thrill moviegoers worldwide.

Read the whole story at ABA Journal

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California Warehouses Mentally Ill, ACLU Says

Posted By Administration, Thursday, July 30, 2015

California "warehouses" mentally ill criminal defendants in jails without treatment for months, often in defiance of judicial orders, five inmates and their families claim in court.
This denies them speedy trials, prevents them from gaining mental competency so they can stand trial, and the state lets them "languish in jail for months even after the court has ordered them committed for competency restoration," the plaintiffs and the ACLU say in their July 29 complaint in Alameda County Court. "It is often only when a judge threatens to hold the state officials in contempt for failing to obey the commitment order that the defendant is finally admitted to an appropriate treatment facility."
Plaintiff Nancy Leiva says her incompetent son was raped repeatedly in Los Angeles County Jail, where he was held for 8 months after the court ordered him committed to a state hospital. He was arrested on Sept. 9, 2011; found incompetent to stand trial on Dec. 6, 2012 and ordered to be committed to the Porterville Development Center for treatment, but spent the next 8 months in the county jail.

Read the whole story at Courthouse News Service

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State high court taking up license-plate scanning case

Posted By Administration, Thursday, July 30, 2015

The state Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to decide when the public can see records of high-tech police monitoring programs like the scanners that officers use to record millions of license plate numbers.

A state appeals court ruled in May that scanning programs used by Los Angeles police and sheriff’s officers were part of a criminal investigation and thus off-limits to the public. Authorities said officers were collecting the information to look for auto thieves and other criminals.

Most Bay Area communities also have automated license scanners on officers’ cars or at fixed locations, and some have already cited the Los Angeles case as authority to withhold their records, said attorney Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Her group and other civil liberties advocates asked the state high court to take the case.

The court unanimously set the appellate ruling aside Wednesday and will hear arguments at a later date.

Read the whole story at SF Gate

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Botched wills can be fixed after death, state high court says

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Like any written document — contracts, insurance policies, even news stories — a person’s last will can contain inadvertent errors, such as a mistaken name or a garbled number. But with the drafter unavailable to set things straight, botched wills have been set in stone in California, beyond the power of any judge to correct them. At least until now.

In a dispute over a multimillion-dollar estate, the California Supreme Court unanimously overturned a 50-year-old precedent and set aside centuries of legal doctrine Monday in ruling that a will that seems clear on its face can be revised, after death, if there is strong evidence that the words didn’t reflect the drafter’s intent.

Clinging to the old rules, and refusing to change unintended provisions in a will, would “unjustly enrich those who would inherit as a result of a mistake,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in the 7-0 ruling.

Read the whole story at SF Gate

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Los Angeles Council Passes Ban on High-Capacity Firearm Magazines

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Responding to the recent rash of mass shootings across the country, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to ban the possession of firearm magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

The Council said the ordinance would close a loophole in a state law, which already bans the sale and manufacture of such magazines. Mayor Eric Garcetti said he would sign the ordinance.

Anyone who already owns high-capacity magazines will have 60 days to remove them from the city or turn them over to the Police Department, which will then destroy, transfer or sell them.

New York State passed a similar law in 2013 shortly after the shootings in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School were killed.

Read the whole story at NY Times

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Former Court Exec Spams Judges

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Curtis Child, a former executive with the Administrative Office of the Courts, has miffed some judges around the state after sending a widespread email touting the virtues of his new employer, CourtCall LLC.

Child's emails went out in early July to judges, Judicial Council employees and at least one reporter. In the missive, Child said that he started a new job on July 1 as director of court and government affairs for CourtCall, which offers audio and video services allowing attorneys to appear remotely for court proceedings.

"I hope that we will have the opportunity to work together on ways to create greater efficiencies in the judicial process," Child wrote. "I will be in touch but please feel free to contact me anytime if I can provide any assistance or information about CourtCall's services."

CourtCall, which operates across the United States and internationally, is the sole provider of remote-appearance services in California courts.

Read the whole story at The Recorder

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A Conversation With Santa Clara's New Presiding Judge

Posted By Paula Collis, Tuesday, July 28, 2015


This article is reprinted with permission from The Recorder. Original Article  

Risë Jones Pichon, a 30-year veteran of the Santa Clara bench, became presiding judge at the beginning of this year. Pichon has been a superior court judge since 1998 and previously served on the municipal court. Over email, she discussed adjusting to her new administrative role, breaking barriers as a minority woman, and responding to the fiscal challenges facing California courts.

What is the biggest challenge you've faced in your new role over the past six months? Time. There is not enough of it, and it seems to be flying by. The position of presiding judge requires attendance at many meetings, some of which are scheduled for the same time period.

There are also general administrative duties which include resolving personnel issues, budget crises, responding to emergency calls from reporters, and then there are always the unexpected events (which turn out to be the norm). I find satisfaction in the challenge of getting the most done within the confines of a day.

So far what has been your biggest accomplishment? With our budget shortfall of $8 million at the beginning of this fiscal year, our judicial officers have been called upon to make some very difficult decisions regarding ways to close the budget gap. I am very proud of how we have come together as a court and are working collaboratively to address these incredible challenges. I take pride in my role leading this wonderful bench and its court as we navigate these unfortunate circumstances.

As you know, some of the decisions involved the closure of some courtrooms and consolidation of calendars. The steps we take must be done carefully and thoughtfully because access to justice is our primary concern. To this end, the Calendar Committee, consisting of judicial officers and staff, has been created to ensure that the changes we make are consistent with our responsibility to the public and are done in an orderly fashion. The charge of this committee also includes an analysis of our workload, to search for efficiencies in the way we do our work, and to examine the division of labor to ensure an equitable distribution of cases.

Although credit goes to the hard work of my colleagues, our court has successfully implemented a process to comply with the mandates of Proposition 47, and we have established a new mental health calendar to address the unique issues facing our community in this area.

What do you hope to change or improve while you are presiding judge? Studies show that our case filings are down in most, but not all divisions of our court. However, the size and number of calendars do not necessarily reflect the reduction in filings.

Different divisions of our court have become disproportionately impacted by these changes, and a more equitable distribution of work is called for. This is one of my goals; not only the equitable distribution of the work, but also to address output and the most efficient way to process our cases which in some cases means doing work differently.

The changes include streamlining the processing of cases, finding ways to equitably distribute the work and reduce inventory. I am working toward achieving this goal.

What does it mean to you to be Santa Clara County's first minority presiding judge? I received a great deal of encouragement from my colleagues to submit my name for consideration as presiding judge. Even though this is a position I really wanted, I would not have expressed interest without this support. I am truly honored to serve as presiding judge of one of the most respected trial courts in the state.

However, being a first comes with a unique set of responsibilities. These include an obligation to make the path a little easier for the next person to follow, and the recognition that others may be judged based on my performance. I hope that I can be an inspiration to others to follow their dreams and to have the courage to set goals and take the risks necessary to achieve them, even though the future is not guaranteed.

There has to be a first in order for there to be a second and so on until we reach that point when it is not surprising or unusual for people outside of the court to see me or any other person of color in this position. I am proud to be a source of encouragement and support for minorities and anyone else who might benefit from what I can offer. To that end, I do enthusiastically respond to requests to meet and speak to students of all ages and at all levels as well as young attorneys. I received tremendous support to get here, and I am committed to doing the same for others.

How are the California courts different now than when you joined the bench 30 years ago? There has been a noticeable shift in the way judicial officers view their roles. They see themselves in the traditional sense as guardians of justice and fairness. Over the years, judicial officers have expanded their roles to include treatment of the individual and to the extent possible, providing litigants with the tools to successfully reintegrate into society. Collaborative courts are pretty much the norm now. This was not so 30 years ago. Judicial officers see themselves as public servants charged with the responsibility of making our community safer. In the past, this was achieved primarily by the removal of individuals from society if circumstances called for it. That responsibility has expanded to include consideration of the needs of the individual for rehabilitation and future productivity in addition to what is beneficial for the community.

Have lawyers' litigation styles evolved? I have noticed less of concern regarding the record being created during trial. Unnecessary remarks, tangential arguments, thinking out loud, and responding to the objections of the other, all set the stage for unanticipated issues for a successful appeal.

What was the most challenging case you've had to preside over? I cannot present the specifics of the case, but it involves a trial where the facts did not develop as intended. The client recognized this and begged the attorney to settle. The attorney not only refused to even consider the wishes of the client, but also failed to consider the downward spiral of the state of the evidence even after the court weighed in, suggesting that a discussion with opposing counsel might be fruitful. In the end, I took a deep breath and allowed the attorney to present his case the way he felt best. I performed my duties, applying the law to the facts; neither of these supported the theories of the case. It was an unnecessary and unfortunate loss for the client.

What is the biggest problem facing the California court system? Finances. The Judicial Council developed a plan at the urging of the governor to equitably distribute funding to the courts throughout the state. With adequate funding, the plan, referred to as the Workload-based Allocation and Funding Methodology, could have worked for all. Instead it has caused some courts to lose funding, placing them in the position of instituting severe cost-saving measures. Without the necessary funds, courts such as ours will be forced continue to institute drastic measures to make ends meet, which unfortunately, will negatively impact the court's overarching goal of access to justice.

What are your thoughts on e-filing? Santa Clara's complex litigation dockets are now available online, but the general filings are not. Do you have any plans to make everything available online? Our court is in the process of acquiring a new case management system which will enable us to expand the use of e-filing. For noncriminal cases, the new system, called Odyssey, should become operational sometime in December of this year. This is the target date. This new system will allow us to implement e-filing which is our plan.

Tags:  Judge Pichon  Judiciary  Presiding Judge  Rise Pichon 

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Nearly 9 in 10 students drop out of unaccredited law schools in California

Posted By Administration, Monday, July 27, 2015

Omar Medina, a security officer working the graveyard shift, attending Northwestern California University School of Law seemed like the ideal way to fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer.

Unlike traditional law schools with high tuitions and entrance requirements, Northwestern California offered Medina a chance to take online courses while working full-time and helping raise his toddler son.

Medina enrolled in the unaccredited school. He said he paid about $3,000 a year in tuition.

But almost from the start, the Marine Corps veteran struggled. He said he frequently asked for help, but got little. Less than two years later, he gave up.

Medina's situation was hardly unusual: Nearly 9 out of 10 students at California's unaccredited law schools dropped out, according to a Times investigation based on recent state bar data.

Read the whole story at LA Times

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2018 Annual Judges' Night Dinner

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Hon. Edward J. Davila2017 Diversity of the Year
Hon. Julie A. Emede2017 Outstanding Jurist of the Year

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