“I submit to you, in the most diverse state in the Union, that a penny on the dollar is insufficient to provide justice.” California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye

Dear Governor Brown,

Forgive me for feeling like I know you, when I really don’t.  You see, I have been practicing law in Los Angeles ever since 1977, when I received my law degree (J.D.) at UC Davis (Martin Luther King Hall School of Law).  That diploma has been hanging on my office wall in a, now nicely aged, wood frame, bearing your signature, back from when you were Governor the first go ‘round, in the 1970’s.  It is the one on the bottom, top left of four: “Edmund G. Brown, Jr.,” signing as both Governor and Top Dog at the UC Regents, to boot. Your very nicely inscribed signature has looked down on my whole law career from my office wall(s), which is why I feel I know you.

I signed up for Medicare a couple of weeks back, the week I paid my taxes on extension – death and taxes, not a cheery week – and you are still Governor, but we are both much older now.  I am now officially old enough to “tell truth to power,” so kindly forgive my candor, one of the rare benefits of reaching one’s Golden Years. 

My, how time flies when you are having fun.  Well, actually, that’s why I am writing.  Law practice here in California, you see, was a whole lot more fun back in the 70’s, when I was much younger, and you were too.

California’s economy had driven off a cliff somewhere in the years between your 70’s era-Governorships and your current 21stC Governorship, but did you really have to decimate our California court system – the only justice system that we have for some 40 million people living in the Golden State – to get our economy straightened out?  Really?!?

Because, that’s what you did, my friend, my Governor of my twenties and again, of my sixties.  You saved our economy here in California, in part, by driving our California Court system off that cliff – something for which you should take no pride, and, frankly – may I speak frankly, since you’ve watched my whole legal career from up there on my wall – something for which you should feel deep shame.

And, maybe, just maybe, a letter like this might get you to understand why you should be ashamed of destroying our California Court system in the name of saving our California economy.

Let’s start with past cuts that already have reduced access to justice:

o   53 courthouses and a total of 204 courtrooms closed

o   Courthouse closures now affect more than 2 millon Californians

o   30 courts with reduced hours

o   37 with reduced self-help/family law facilitators

I have made my living in California’s Courts for nearly 40 years now.   There was a time when we had a Fast Track Court system that really did get most cases to trial in a year or so; far better than the 5 years to trial that it took when I first began in the ’70’s, and to which we are now rapidly returning.   No more.

We still have all the Fast Track rules, but our California State Judges do not have the clerical and research backup to enforce them, and move case calendars along, as they were designed anymore – your repeated waves of Death by a Thousand Cuts to our courts’ budgets took care of that.  Hell, we don’t even have Court Reporters in the Superior Court courtrooms anymore; not unless, that is, you have a client who can afford to pay the $1,000 – $1,500 per day to bring their own privately hired Court Reporters.

And, you know, it’s a funny thing, Jerry – can I call you, Jerry?  Judges act differently in our Courts when there is no Court Reporter to take down all the words spoken.  Now, I’m not writing this to slam our California Judges – Lord knows they are struggling to read the mountains of paper filed daily without adequate help; some cannot read what we lawyers have to file, nobody could.  It is quite the anomaly (or dare I say, Societal Schizophrenia) to still have such complex rules of California civil procedure, likely the most complex in the nation, while also having Judges who do not have nearly the clerical or research resources to utilize, enforce, and work within those rules.

It’s not like we have another Justice System.  Well, as you well know, we actually do have another Justice System, and it’s not exactly the People’s Court.   We used to call it by the unflattering name: Rent-A-Judges. Retired Judges, who used to sit in our California Superior Courts, now work privately, doing what they used to do when they wore state-issued black robes, but who do it now for healthy hourly rates that most California litigants really can’t afford.

Much of the business, which used to be done by our California Superior Courts, is now being done privately by whole companies of retired Judges, and a few grey-haired lawyers working at huge cost to the select group litigants who can pay the freight.

We have a Pay-As-You-Go Court System here now, which is all the justice you can afford, if you can afford it.  Each year, our phenomenally expensive private Justice System grows larger as more and more lawyers run screaming from our gridlocked and increasingly dysfunctional California Court system – the one that you so blithely decapitated, mutilated, and kicked to the curb, so you can claim to have righted our California Economic ship. Decimating our Justice System, by design, brings us one step further back to a Barbarian era, before there were Judicial Systems.

Our California Judicial System proudly has roots in both the English Common Law, as you well know, going back to the Magna Carta (1215) and even Roman law, as well as in Mexican and Spanish law, due to our state’s history.  It exists, as all Justice Systems exist, because before there were Justice Systems, tribal elders decided disputes, or controversies were settled by you getting all of your big, tall, tough cousins and meeting me and my cousins, on a field of battle, and the cousins who lived to tell the tale, got their justice in the worst way possible.

Please don’t take my word for it, Jerry – ask any lawyer who has a diploma where the ink of the signatures, like yours, has thoroughly dried.  But, particularly, ask the lawyers like me who now have grey or white hair, and who remember you back in the 70’s, when I was in a young lawyer in my late twenties, and you were just a wee bit older.  Show not only the older lawyers (I go back so far now, that my California State Bar number starts with a zero), but the younger ones too, that we here in California, live in a society that values its Justice System, and understands that, for many millions of Californians, that Justice System is the only Justice System we have.

If I haven’t made my point clearly enough, Jerry, for God’s Sake, would you please properly fund our California Superior Court system again?!?

We are looking again at years-long delays to trial, like it was in the 70’s when you signed my law school diploma – months’ long delays to hear motions, that should be heard in a few weeks – Judges, who are burning out, and who are taking it out on the lawyers and litigants before them, the closest to them, in desperation because they lack the clerical and research support that they need and are entitled to have.

Re-allocate where you are cutting budgets, to get our California Courts back on track to be the finest in the nation, not the gridlocked, dysfunctional mess that they are as I write this.

Do it for California; do it for you and me, we’ve known each other a long time, with you looking down from my office wall on my whole legal career.  No, I don’t want to be a Judge, and, Heaven Knows that after this letter, I never would be considered to be one – that’s OK, I still like what I do and never did have judicial aspirations.  Don’t leave a legacy as the Governor who ruled both in the 20thC – 70’s, and again in the 21stC, but who, on that last go ‘round, DECIMATED our California Superior Court system.  That’s no legacy, that’s just utter destruction . . . . . like Mad Max, the Road Warrior, a world in which I don’t wish to live and neither do you.