Family Law Perspective
The theme this year in Family Law Court has been access and efficiency. In order to improve both access and efficiency, the court has made some structural changes promoting less courtroom wait time and settlement. Moreover, the court has added services that will increase family law litigants’ access to court services.
At long last, court reporters returned to family on July 1, 2019. Court reporters are available to transcribe all hearings and trials in family. Litigants no longer have to bring their own court reporter at their own expense.
On October 1, 2019, Judge Brian Haynes’ department became a domestic violence and settlement conference department. In an effort to ensure that domestic violence hearings maintain priority with sufficient opportunity to be heard without compromising other family law hearings, most domestic violence hearings are set in Department 11 in the mornings. Judge Haynes conducts settlement conferences in the afternoon. Now attorneys have an opportunity to have a settlement conference with a judge that will not be hearing the trial.
The children’s waiting room is almost complete and ready to open. The waiting room will be staffed with two qualified care providers. Litigants will be able to use the children’s waiting room while receiving services from the information desk, attending classes and workshops and filling out and filing paperwork. We do ask litigants not to use the waiting room while at court for a scheduled hearing.
The judges and legal technicians have been working hard to ensure judgments are turned around in a reasonable amount of time. Last year, the legal technicians, led by Nicolle Clark, worked very hard to get all judgments submitted in 2018 signed and filed by the end of the year. Thanks to long hours and dedication by all the legal technicians this goal was met. Currently, the turn-around time on judgments is less than a week.
In an effort to build on our tier mediation success and being mindful of litigants’ time, we are offering same-day mediation. If there is same-day mediation available, family court services emails this information to all judges. Judges, then, have the ability to send litigants, who are appearing that day and have not attended mediation, to same-day mediation. Generally, litigants would return to court on a different day for their hearing.
This year Judge John Cope rotated out of family while Judge Cheryl Mills rotated into family. This is Judge Cheryl Mill’s second tour in family. We are thrilled to have her experience and intellect in family. Additionally, Commissioner Kathleen Murphy retired in March of 2019. While losing Commissioner Murphy was a huge loss, the Court was fortunate to hire Commissioner Christine Donovan as her replacement. Commissioner Donovan has a wide breadth of experience in family law. Commissioner Donovan began her legal career as a solo family law practitioner. After a year of being a solo practitioner, Commissioner Donovan joined Bartholomew, Wasznicky & Molinaro in Sacramento as an associate family law attorney. Four years later, Commissioner Donovan joined the Superior Court in Solano County as a family law legal research attorney. Commissioner Donovan served as a temporary judge for probate, mental health, civil harassment and family law matters. Commissioner Donovan was and continues to be a family law specialist.
The judges and staff in Contra Costa County Superior Court know the impact family law cases have on litigants. As such, we are continuously striving to improve and expand the services offered to family law litigants.