Presiding Judge Review

Presiding Judge Review

By the time you read this article, I will have nearly completed my two-year term as Presiding Judge (PJ). What a whirlwind it has been. Soon I will be heading back to a civil assignment with only memories of the challenges and opportunities presented.

I am most proud of the improvements we instituted in the Juvenile and Family Divisions. Last year, we moved the juvenile courtrooms from downtown Martinez into a new Juvenile Justice Center in Walnut Creek. The move has been a resounding success, resulting in improved services for families involved in both dependency and delinquency matters.

We were also able to shift resources to provide another judge to the always overworked Family Law Division. The recently vacated Martinez courtrooms presented an unanticipated benefit. Chronic staffing shortages were causing service problems for the two Pittsburg Family departments so we moved those judges back to Martinez into the Wakefield Taylor Courthouse earlier this year.

In other judicial moves, we transformed a criminal trial department into a dedicated criminal mental health department. Given the volume Judge Brady has handled in the department, there is no question that the department was sorely needed. Judge Brady also took the lead in starting our grant-funded Veteran’s Treatment Court which has been a huge success. Finally, we were able to increase judicial resources for Probate, a case type which has seen steadily increased filings over the years.

After decades of discussion, I was thrilled to finally sign a contract on behalf of the court for a new case management system (CMS). We launched the project in our traffic division, spearheaded by our very own CMS Project Manager, Sharad Jain, who is helping us oversee implementation of the system. Once traffic is completed, we will move on to other larger case types until we eventually have one unified case management system.

My tenure saw tectonic changes in the composition of the court and administration. By the end of the year, we will have said goodbye to seven veteran judges and said hello to four new bench officers. In the administration, we bid farewell to our former Court Executive Officer, Stephen Nash, and welcomed a true star, Kate Bieker. Many of you already know Kate from her 12-plus years at the Court including the past few years running court operations. Kate has hit the ground running and will provide steady leadership for the Court in years to come.

Kate has already helped us weather numerous crises caused by our failing IT infrastructure. Many of you are familiar with the ongoing troubles we have had with civil e-filing but you might not be aware of other difficulties, such as the time the holding cells in Pittsburg were stuck in unlock mode for a week due to a corrupted server. David Chulick, our new Chief Information Officer, is doing his best to bring us into the 21st Century.

The court confronted many challenges due to immediate changes in the law. We had to juggle dockets and change calendars based on Humphrey, a ground-breaking decision concerning bail. While Humphrey is now pending before the California Supreme Court, the governor signed SB 10 which does away with cash bail next fall. We are now evaluating an entirely new system for pretrial release.
Early July brought Jameson v. Desta. That decision obligated trial courts to immediately provide court reporters in any civil, family or probate case where a party desires a record of the proceedings and has a fee waiver. We have been forced to quickly obtain electronic recording equipment in misdemeanor proceedings so that we can free up our court reporters for the new workload in civil matters.

Handling these challenges would not have been possible without the flexibility and support of the bench, our hardworking staff and administration, and the bar. I want to thank all of you for your help and patience during these past two years. It is now time to pass the PJ reins to the capable hands of Judge Barry Baskin. Good luck Judge Baskin!