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The Bench and The Bar – A Strong and Collaborative Relationship

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, June 4, 2019


The Hon. Deborah A. Ryan  Presiding Judge, Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara


It was with great pleasure that I accepted President Gabriel Gregg's kind offer to write a guest column for the Santa Clara County Bar Association because it affords me the opportunity to reflect upon the strong and collaborative relationship that the SCCBA and the Santa Clara County Superior Court have enjoyed over the years. The SCCBA has always encouraged volunteerism to assist the court and the bar members have always responded by embracing that call.  I write this having been a part of the equation for the past forty plus years, with the first 22 years as a lawyer and bar association member and the last 19 as a judicial officer. While clearly so much has changed over the years, (I believe when I began the practice of law, we did not even use fax machines), the collaboration, relationship and spirit of volunteerism between the bench and the bar has remained intact.


In reviewing the guest columns written by past Presiding Judges Lucas and Pichon over the last few years there was a clear focus on budget issues that contributed to a loss of resources and a reduction of service. While we as a court and a branch are still underfunded, I am pleased to say that we continue to work with the judicial council, the governor and our legislators to remedy that situation. The May 2019 revision to Governor Gavin Newsom's budget (which still needs to be passed by the legislature and may well have by the time this goes to press) contains modest good news for the judicial branch.  There is increased funding including additional funding for 25 new judgeships, an increase in the cap on trial court reserve funds from 1% to 3%, funding  for the continued expansion of interpreter services in civil cases and to cover the additional costs in criminal cases, an increase in federal funds for court-appointed dependency counsel, additional funds for staff to help maintain trial court eligibility to collect federal reimbursements, an additional one time funding in the equal access fund to provide legal aid to renters in landlord tenant disputes and funds for the courts of appeal to address increased workloads and costs. These increases support the goal of the judiciary to provide equal access to justice to all.  These statewide changes may not translate into specific change for our local court in every area, but they will help to relieve the pressure we have experienced in attempting to provide high levels of service to the public with decreased funding. It is critical that we as a bench and bar continue to talk to our local legislators, who have been helpful in the past by recognizing our needs and how the lack of funding impacts the public that we all serve, and encourage them to continue to support adequate funding for our courts.


Our new case management system, Odyssey, which many of you know from the civil, family and traffic divisions of the court has now been implemented in our criminal division. As with any introduction of a new system, there have been challenges, but we are hopeful that when it is fully implemented we will see efficiencies and economies that will enable us to continue our efforts to reduce backlogs and provide improved pubic service. Our court recognizes that reduced funding has impacted all court users and we will continue to strive to lessen that impact as we move forward.


We are pleased that with assistance from the County of Santa Clara, we have been able to increase our self-help center hours to a full five days a week. Through the diligent efforts of its supervising attorney, Fariba Soroosh, and the excellent attorneys and staff working in self-help, we have been able to reach more self-represented litigants who need assistance and have expanded our advice and assistance in the fast-growing area of probate.


There is an important and substantive manner in which SCCBA members can continue to support and assist the court: volunteering for our temporary judge program. We are actively recruiting members of the bar with ten years of experience (an exception in some instances can be made to this requirement) who are interested in serving as a temporary judge in a number of areas. We are especially in need of temporary judges willing to serve in traffic and small claims. Benefits of choosing this type of public service include; an opportunity to make important decisions that impact lives and to determine if you like judging, a chance to serve the public and do much needed pro bono service for the court and free mcle credit when you take the necessary training. If you are interested, please see the court’s website for additional information about applying for the program.


Before I conclude, I want to offer thanks on behalf of myself personally and the court to the SCCBA’s Chief Executive Officer and General Counsel, Chris Burdick, and to wish her well in her upcoming retirement. For the past 29 years, Chris has been tireless in her dedication to serving Santa Clara County’s legal community and the public.  Her guidance and wisdom have helped to make the SCCBA an organization that is recognized for its excellence both at the state and national levels.  Chris is an institution and she will be missed. I know the search is on for her successor and all of us at the court look forward to forging the same type of bench/bar relationship that we have had under Chris’s leadership.


While the years ahead will undoubtedly continue to bring challenges to the practice of law and to the court system in general, we can rest assured that our bench and bar will be standing together to weather these challenges. I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of this tremendous legal community.

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