When I learned I would be Traffic Supervisor this year, I was happy to take on the new duties on top of my regular job presiding over the Civil Department. That was because I knew that our Traffic Commissioners, Lowell Richards and Terrye Davis, were two of the most respected and experienced bench officers in the state. I figured that with those two running the show, everything was certain to go smoothly. But a few weeks before I started in this new role, Governor Brown appointed Commissioner Davis to the bench in Solano County Superior Court. Then a few months later, Commissioner Richards retired after a long and illustrious career with our court. And the Traffic Supervisor suddenly had a lot more to do!
Lucky for us that we had the help of dedicated members of our bar who stepped up to sit as Pro Tem Judges for the many weeks required to hire permanent replacements. With their help, we were able to cover just about all of the open Traffic, Small Claims, Unlawful Detainer and Civil Harassment calendars. For those of you that volunteered to serve, I can’t adequately express how grateful all of us at the court are for your generous assistance in our time of need. For those interested in becoming a Pro Tem Judge, we are revamping our training curriculum and should be conducting classes to qualify a new group of attorneys to serve in the next few months.
We ended up hiring two talented new commissioners, Jennifer Lee and Diana Kruze, who are doing a wonderful job in their new posts. Commissioner Lee presides over the morning calendars in Walnut Creek and then travels to Richmond to conduct the afternoon court sessions. Commissioner Kruze covers the morning calendar in Pittsburg and the afternoon calendar in Martinez. They are both smart, hard-working and enthusiastic. They also naturally treat all of the litigants in their courtrooms, most of whom are representing themselves, with respect and dignity. We are fortunate to have them as members of our bench.
The other big Traffic Department news this year is our successful implementation of a new case management system! The system is the first stage of our court-wide effort to replace our out-of-date case management systems in all case types over the next few years. The new system allows us to process citations digitally and will soon give us the ability to handle citations online. Designing the processes necessary for this new system and migrating data from the old system to the new one were massive undertakings that took over a year to complete. We couldn’t have done it without the exceptional skill and efforts of our staff, led by Shelly Hasson, Karen Cardinale, Romel Martinez, Fae Li and Christena Flores.
At the statewide level, there continues to be a reexamination of how our justice system deals with traffic matters due to the disproportionate impact that our current system has on low-income offenders. In recent years, courts throughout the state have implemented easy-to-understand procedures for reducing fines and fees for those that do not have the “ability to pay,” waiving civil assessments, allowing manageable payment plans and granting community service credit in lieu of fines. On a broader level, the Judicial Council is considering a proposal to sponsor legislation to treat all minor traffic violations as civil violations rather than as criminal offenses. Under this proposal, criminal processes—including arraignment, forfeiting of “bail” for infractions, trials in absentia, and civil assessments and new criminal penalties for failure to appear and failure to pay—would be eliminated. Instead, when a person fails to appear to address a traffic violation, the court would simply enter a civil default. These and other aspects of this interesting proposed legislation can be found at https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/leg19-04.pdf.