Volunteer Opportunities with the Court

gavel on green backgroundOne of the benefits of my role at the court is connecting with the many attorney volunteers who graciously give of their time as part of the court’s long-standing partnership with the CCCBA. These attorneys roundly describe their service as both personally and professionally fulfilling. Service not only provides support for the public but can also aid attorneys in developing a particular legal skill set or in strengthening their knowledge in an existing practice area. Whether it is providing someone the opportunity to “have their day in court” for their small claims matter, assisting parties in resolving discovery disputes, or mediating tense unlawful detainer cases where a person’s home is at stake, volunteer attorneys are an invaluable resource for the public and the court. Here are a few of the opportunities the court offers for attorneys who wish to volunteer their time and talent for the public’s benefit.

Temporary Judges

Temporary judges are attorneys appointed by the court to help resolve a backlog of cases by covering calendars for judges or commissioners who are unavailable. Volunteer temporary judges typically support the commissioners in unlawful detainer, traffic, civil harassment, and small claims matters. The court also utilizes temporary judges in its probate departments and offers specialized training in probate law for those individuals. The temporary judge program is particularly beneficial for those who may consider a judicial appointment. In Contra Costa, most current commissioners and many current judges previously served as temporary judges here or in other counties.

An attorney must have at least 10 years of active membership with the State Bar of California and must complete training in bench conduct/judicial demeanor, ethics, and additional courses related to the specific subject matter in which the temporary judge will hear cases. For all current application and training information, including upcoming training classes, the court maintains a dedicated temporary judge webpage.1

The service of these volunteer attorneys is essential to court operations, as without them, litigants throughout the county would experience inconvenience and significant delays in resolving their matters. And many times, the only judicial officer an individual will encounter in their case is a temporary judge. Temporary judges not only serve the court itself, but for those who appear before them, they also represent the court’s core ideals of the fair and impartial administration of justice in the public interest.

Discovery Facilitators

The court also relies on volunteer attorneys in its Discovery Facilitator Program to assist parties in resolving discovery disputes without the full cost and risk of a motion. This program is particularly close to me, as I volunteered as a facilitator several times when I was still in private practice. While the process is not mediation and therefore not privileged, discovery facilitators can assist parties toward negotiated resolution where possible, and if not, they ultimately provide a recommendation to the court on the merits of the dispute. In a recent review of two sample months of program requests, the court determined that more than half of the disputes were resolved through this process and without the need for a full motion. Volunteer discovery facilitators assist the parties in resolving disputes in a more economical fashion and help clear crowded discovery calendars.

Case Evaluators and Settlement Mentors / Congress of Neutrals

The court also relies on volunteer attorneys to serve as mediators, settlement mentors, and case evaluators as part of its Alternative Dispute Resolution Program. More information about the court’s ADR services, including application materials for service on the court’s ADR panels, many be found on the court’s website.2 Attorneys may also serve with the Congress of Neutrals, a non-profit organization that trains mediators to assist in resolving many cases, including unlawful detainer, small claims, and civil harassment matters. Please visit the Congress of Neutrals website for more information on that program.3 These volunteers are invaluable to the court as the attorneys are particularly successful at guiding the parties to a negotiated, satisfactory resolution, thereby alleviating these particularly impacted court calendars.

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

CASA volunteers are appointed by the court to advocate for the best interests of children who are involved in the child welfare system. Attorneys, particularly those with experience in family law or child advocacy, can be valuable advocates for children and provide recommendations to the court regarding their placement and care. Volunteers are typically appointed in cases where a child has been removed from their home due to abuse or neglect and is in protective custody. The role of a CASA volunteer is to gather information about the child’s situation and provide recommendations to the court regarding the child’s placement, medical care and education. CASA volunteers work closely with professionals who are involved in the child welfare system, including attorneys and social workers, to ensure that the child’s needs are being met. Beyond support through the process, CASA volunteers provide a consistent presence and emotional support for the child. The dedication of CASA volunteers to children in need makes a significant difference in their lives and their communities. More information about becoming a CASA volunteer may be found at the Contra Costa County CASA website.4

The court is fortunate to work in partnership with the many volunteer attorneys who have graciously dedicated their efforts to these services. On behalf of the court, I encourage each of you to consider offering your time and service to these programs.

[1] https://www.cc-courts.org/general/temporary-judge.aspx
[2] https://www.cc-courts.org/civil/alternative-dispute-resolution.aspx
[3] https://congressofneutrals.org/
[4] https://www.cccocasa.org/menus/become-a-volunteer.html