A Force for Improving the Law
Editor’s Note: This issue of the Contra Costa Lawyer features the Conference of California Bar Associations (CCBA). It should not be confused with the Contra Costa County Bar Associations (CCCBA).
The Conference of California Bar Associations (the CCBA) was incorporated in 2001 primarily for the purpose of aiding in matters pertaining to the improvement of the administration of justice. Virtually all the bills sponsored, co-sponsored and supported by the CCBA – over 135 since 2010 – fit into this category.
Improving the administration of justice takes different forms. In some cases, it involves correcting errors in the statutes that can confuse, confound or annoy lawyers, clients, and judges. These include proposals to remove erroneous cross-references to statutes that have been re-numbered or repealed.
In other cases, improving the administration of justice (or aiding in matters pertaining to the advancement of the science of jurisprudence, the other purpose for which the CCBA was incorporated) involves improving the operation of our court system for the benefit of clients, lawyers and judges. An example of this is AB 383 (Chau) of 2017, a bill sponsored by the CCBA which authorized courts to hold informal discovery conferences in civil cases, reducing wasted time, cost and paperwork for call concerned. In some instances, the CCBA has improved the administration of justice without the enacted for legislation, as in the case of Resolution 07-05-2010, which resulted in the enactment of a Rule of Court increasing the opportunities for counsel to appear in cases telephonically. An even simpler example is AB 1932 (Jones) of 2014, which required Appellate Division court opinions to provide an actual explanation for a decision, rather than simply saying “affirmed” or “denied.”
In still other cases, CCBA-inspired legislation has improved the administration of justice by changing the law to eliminate injustice. In come cases, this requires overturning appellate court decisions that for any number of reasons have resulted in unfairness. A classic example of this is AB 1624 (Gatto) of 2012, which overturned the case of Lee v. Yang, 111 Cal. App. 4th 481, which held that even if one party to multiple-party bank account contributed all the money in that account, any other party to the account could withdraw and keep all the money as his or her own. AB 1624, which was inspired by a CCBA resolution, restored the original intent of the multiple party accounts law, thereby preventing the legal victimization of California seniors who add family members or friends to their bank accounts to help them pay the bills.
Other CCBA-sponsored and inspired bills have protected other members of society by prohibiting the secret settlement of childhood sexual abuse and exploitation cases, as well as felony sex abuse cases, as a matter of public policy (AB 1682 by Asm. Mark Stone of 2016), by requiring hotels and motels, the most common sites of human trafficking activity, to post notices providing essential information on victims of the practice (AB 260 by Asm. Miguel Santiago of 2017), and by authorizing courts to penalize those who commit financial elder abuse by imposing double damages and holding them liable for attorney’s fees and costs incurred by the victims in protecting their rights and property.
Much of the administration of justice is handled by our criminal courts and justice system, and the CCBA has been particularly active in this arena. Bills sponsored by the CCBA to improve our criminal corrections and juvenile justice systems include:
- SB 355 (Mitchell) of 2017 – Ended the practice of requiring innocent criminal defendants represented by public defenders and other court-provided counsel to pay the costs of their representation.
- SB 625 (Atkins) of 2017 – Re-authorizes courts to grant honorable discharges to juvenile offenders with good records on supervised probation. Honorable discharge fell victim to the intricacies of realignment but was restored with this bill thanks to the efforts of the CCBA.
- SB 411 (Lara) of 2015 – Specifies it is not a crime to peaceably film police officers in the performance of their duties.
- AB 2765 (Weber) of 2016 – Extended by five years the time limit (originally only three years) on Petitions to Recall Sentences established by Proposition 47.
- AB 1375 of 2015 and AB 2839 of 2016 (Thurmond) – Increased the rate of credit for incarceration against criminal fines from $30 per day, set in the 1980’s, to $125 per day, a reasonable adjustment for the cost of living to enable criminal defendants who cannot afford to pay fines to get out earlier, benefiting the defendants and reducing jail overcrowding.
The CCBA also has sponsored and supported many bills to improve the administration of justice by helping reduce bias in California’s courts and society. The CCBA has been one of the original supporters and most consistent supporters of legislation to make it easier for transgender individuals to obtain identification consistent with their gender identity (AB 433 of 2011 and SB 179 of 2017). Another bill (AB 830 of 2015) established a civil cause of action for damages based on violence motivated by the victim’s gender identity, consistent with recent changes to Unruh Act.
The CCBA is unique among the organizations that seek to improve the workings of California’s court and justice systems – the administration of justice. The CCBA is the only organization that provides an opportunity for rank-and-file lawyers to identify what they see as failings, inefficiencies, and injustices in our court and justice systems, to develop proposed solutions to the problems and, after an extensive vetting process, to see that proposal through to enactment as a statute. Literally any California lawyer can propose a change in the law to the CCBA through his or her local or specialty bar association. This is particularly important for public attorneys, such as public defenders – and even judges – who are extremely limited in their opportunities to recommend improvements in the law through their professional organizations.