California courts, including Superior Courts handling divorce, support, and child custody matters, have been severely impacted by state budget cuts. This has resulted in a reduction
in family court personnel, reduced hours for filings, lengthy waits for divorce judgments to be processed, and delays in child support wage assignments being issued. Family law litigants are sometimes required to have a hearing without a court reporter or to provide a reporter at their own expense. Delays in obtaining hearing dates compound a divorcing couple’s financial and/or emotional distress particularly if there are pressing issues that cannot be resolved without court intervention.
It is often stated justice delayed is justice denied. While I lament the impact the budget cuts are having on our California judicial system, I am heartened by the judicial system’s significant, but not yet universal, adoption of the internet as a resource for litigants, attorneys, the courts, and the general public.
Computers were just replacing typewriters when I first began practicing law. There was no internet. Legal research required access to a well-equipped law library. Reported appellate cases, statutory provisions, and law review articles were found in printed volumes you hoped would be on the shelf when needed.
Given what we had to work with then, it is exciting to see a wide range of information, pleadings, and documents related to the courts and judicial process readily and inexpensively accessible using various websites and apps. Let me share a few of my favorites.
The Judicial Council of California is the policy making body of the California courts. Its website has an excellent “self-help” section
containing a vast amount of information. Specific pleadings that need to be completed and filed with the court regarding a particular legal matter are identified. The mandatory and discretionary Judicial Council pleading forms for family law cases (as well as civil and probate) are available in auto-fill format at the website. These forms can be printed for signing and filing once completed. The site even has videos designed to walk a litigant through completing certain form pleadings. The site is particularly valuable to litigants who cannot afford an attorney or choose to be self-represented.
The Superior Court of every county in California has a website accessible by entering “[County name] Superior Court website” into the Google search box. Our San Diego Superior Court family court website includes links to the state and local rules of court, courtroom judicial assignments and telephone numbers to court clerks and various administrative offices, hearing calendars, a video designed to familiarize parents with the Family Court Services mediation process that is required when there are child custody or visitation issues, Judicial Council pleadings forms, and an index of cases filed in the San Diego Superior Court during the last several decades. The websites of the Superior Court of various other counties contain detailed information regarding the nature, date and outcome of court proceedings occurring in a particular case, and a link for ordering conformed copies of pleadings and orders in the court file.
The “California Courts” app is available through the iTunes store for $2.99. This app pulls information into a single location from a number of different websites. This app is particularly useful to practicing attorneys but is also a great resource for anyone wanting to become more familiar with the workings and work product of the California judicial system.
The app provides quick access to all published opinions of the California Supreme Court and the California Courts of Appeal. You can use this app to access information at the State Bar of California website pertaining to attorneys, including information related to when a particular attorney became licensed, law school attended, and whether the attorney has been the subject of any disciplinary proceedings. You can search for attorneys within a particular county designated by the State Bar of California as certified specialists in a particular area, such as family law.
Besides assisting those involved in legal proceedings to maneuver through the court system, the low-or-no cost and ease of access to information available to everyone via the internet bodes well for our democracy. The vast amount of information allows citizens to become educated about the law, their legal rights and the recourse available through the courts when those rights are infringed.
I would love to see civics and government teachers and their students become familiar with and take advantage of the educational resources available through websites and apps like those mentioned. I am hopeful adequate funding will soon be restored to the California courts to ensure litigants have their day in court in a timely, efficient, and effective manner, so that our judicial system, designed to enforce the rule of law upon which our system is premised, will continue to receive the respect it justly deserves.