Helping Families Heal

Lopez_Magda_webFamilies come to the Peter L. Spinetta Law Center when their lives are painful and in chaos. Our job is to be an effective member of the team that helps them navigate their crisis and move on with their lives. I’m proud to say that in spite of ongoing budget cuts in the past few years, our Court has improved this process.

The changes start at our reception desk where, our customers are greeted with a friendly smile and provided answers to their questions. This service ensures that everyone is quickly directed to the service they need. Attorneys with a current Bar card, who do not need assistance with ex parte or domestic violence matters, can proceed directly to the left side of the Reception Desk to request an “attorney” ticket. Every work day, from 8 am until 3 pm, attorneys get priority at a dedicated window in the family law filing area.

At the reception desk, people are issued tickets from our automated cueing system. This system allows customers to sit while they wait—a welcome change from the days of standing in long lines. Recently, new chairs that are both clean and attractive were installed. In the coming months, many of these chairs will be wired so that customers can use their electronic devices while they wait. The Court’s public website has been enhanced to provide quicker access to parties using the Wi-Fi capability. In addition, the website can also now be accessed via mobile devices. The new Ad Gator boards help everyone quickly confirm where their case is being heard without the need to wait in line at the reception desk, and we now have attractive, easy- to-read signs—no more tacky papers taped everywhere.

Another important change has been the migration of key services to an online format. The online Domestic Violence Restraining Order service not only allows easy access to forms and information, but it also allows for online submission of domestic violence applications and responses. The Family Court Services Orientation required of all parties with custody and visitation disputes is now exclusively available online and has been translated into Spanish.

One of the most dramatic improvements in Family Law has been the reduction in the wait time for an appointment with a Child Custody Recommending Counselor (CCRC). At one time, families were waiting as long as 14 weeks for an appointment. By instituting a series of changes, including a system of reminder calls two weeks prior to CCRC appointments, reminder texts one week prior to the appointment, and day-of-court appointments as a last ditch effort to fill every appointment slot, the unit has reduced the number of missed appointments and has been able to fill appointments that would otherwise have gone unused. With these measures and others, the wait for an appointment has been reduced to just four weeks.

In January of 2017, Judge Brian Haynes will be added to the roster of family law judges. His courtroom will continue to be in Pittsburg. With an additional bench officer, it is anticipated that parties may be able to get to a hearing sooner and that some of the load on our overtaxed family law judges can be reduced.

Finally, when it comes time to get a judgment, defaults are being finalized much more quickly. Staffing changes, retirements and other factors increased the time for processing default judgments to as long as 16 weeks in April of 2016. With a combination of overtime and an increased focus on getting these judgments completed, processing times have been greatly reduced. Also, in response to a request from the Contra Costa County Bar Association’s (CCCBA) Family Law Section, and with support from our Supervising Judge Christopher Bowen, judgments that are submitted for the second time are given priority in processing.

So yes – all of us in the Court’s Family Law Division are working harder, but also more efficiently, than ever. As a result, we are working effectively with our partners from the CCCBA to help families heal.