We all know that under former CJ Ron George, California was a pioneer in access to justice and self-help services. So it is wonderful to see that his successor, Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye shares that commitment and understands the breadth of the value of the approach. The subject was a major component of the Chiefs’s State of the Judiciary speech. It is very significant that the Chief chose to focus on these services before the legislature. I suspect that this reflects the political reality that self-help services are very popular, in part because they are available to everybody (see communications research here.) Here is the Chief’s text on self-help. Note that the state now has 100 centers!
Another collaborative project that the branch works on to achieve fairness are the self-help centers. Just like the name sounds, self-help centers are located in courts to help people who come to court with a problem, but without an attorney. These courts last year helped over a million people of all economic levels, cultures, ethnicities, and in their native language.
And 17 years ago, in 1997, there was only one self-help center in California.
But thanks to a collaboration with you, the Legislature, and the executive branch, and the Judicial Council, we now have over 100 of these kinds of courts. One in each of our 58 trial courts.
And self-help centers also make courts efficient, because they prepare a self-represented litigant for his day in court on critical issues. And what it means is that by the time that self-representative litigant gets to court his paperwork or her paperwork is in order, and they know what to expect.
So it permits the judge to focus on fixing the problem instead of fixing the paperwork.
And these only work because of collaboration, not only with government, but the self-help attorneys, pro bono and legal aid attorneys, as well as the volunteers who staff the self-help centers.
And speaking of the volunteers who help staff the self-help centers, I’d like to mention JusticeCorps. JusticeCorps is a unique national service program. It started when the AOC obtained a grant in Los Angeles to start JusticeCorps. It’s been so successful we’ve expanded it to San Diego and Bay Area courts.
And this is what JusticeCorps is and what it does: It goes to our state campuses, and it recruits students and graduates to staff and volunteer in the self-help centers. It takes about 250 of these recruits. Seventy percent of them are bilingual.
And they help people who have problems in court. They help prepare people for court, and last year helped 16,000 people in their native language actually navigate the courts.
So JusticeCorps is in its 10th year; it’s their 10-year anniversary. And I only want to say happy birthday, and that the fact that they’re called JusticeCorps makes them sound like they’re super heroes. Which they kind of are, in my view, because they help people understand the judicial system and find their way through it.
The speech also includes a description of the ambitious work the state is doing in the language access area and that:
[t]he next phase of self-assessment will be—funding allowable—a commission on the future of the branch. This commission needs to take a hard look at the dynamics of the legal system and how to improve them to make them more efficient, but also balancing due process.
It great to see California continuing to show the way.
Note: This corrected version of the post includes the name of, and a link for, the California Chief. My very embarrassed apologies.