More judges, less access at SLO County courts

April 20, 2018

Stew Jenkins

OPINION by STEW JENKINS

Six times in the Declaration of Independence Congress said that denial of access to independent, honest and opened courts was cause to sever ties with England.

An independent honest judiciary is the lynchpin holding our democratic-republic together. Without effective access to courts, people who have been wronged turn to vigilante self-help “justice.” Improvident and short-sighted administration by judges in San Luis Obispo County has chipped away at citizens’ practical access to justice.

Other county offices are opened 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The gateways to the court, the clerk windows, don’t open till 8:30 am and closes at 4 pm. Working folk have impaired access.

Five open clerk’s counters used to serve litigants with civil, small claims, probate, family law, and juvenile cases. Now there is generally only one opened window.

When other county offices have opened phones five days each week, the San Luis Obispo’s Superior Courts restricts the days and times for the public or their lawyers to phone court clerks, family court services (mediation), and probate investigators. The Court’s website doesn’t even keep up with the times or days when phone access is closed down.

All citizens, members of the press, lawyers, witnesses, and jurors face these physical barriers to justice.

When banks are opened from 8 or 9 a.m. till 6 or 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and even for significant hours on Saturday, with opened doors and opened phones; shouldn’t the public’s halls of justice be as freely available? When requiring lawyers to file electronically is saving the courts bushel-bails of money, shouldn’t the public have more access, not less to open doors and open phones?

This is not a question of judicial integrity. It is one of improvident and short-sighted administration critical to whether citizens have access to courts, to counsel and to justice. These are the very reasons the people of California have reserved the right in our Constitution to directly elect Superior Court judges, instead of leaving the selection of judges to governors, to other sitting judges or to bar associations.

Grand juries have been hobbled by the local judiciary. A new per-document fee, reminiscent of “the Stamp Act” has been imposed by local judges as a financial barrier to middle-income residents getting legal help or justice.

As we approach the June 2018 election of Superior Court judges, think about the benefit of bringing on new Judges not selected by the governor, the bar, or the other judges. Vote for candidates who pledge to roll back careless administrative barriers to justice.

Stew Jenkins  is a San Luis Obispo public interest lawyer who handles municipal law, open government cases, 1st Amendment cases, estate planning and family law. Jenkins has advised on and handled initiative/referendum, FPPC and other election matters. Jenkins supports rights to equal justice, to organize unions, to project labor agreements, to health care and to equal dignity.







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7 Comments

  1. George Bailey says:

    Folks,

    I agree with Mr. Stew Jenkins!

    In San Luis Obispo County, being able to access the courthouse and, therefore justice, has become something made out of touch for the working-class public, and this ought to change.

    Believe me, the judges and courthouse administrators know exactly what they are doing (and the effect it will have) when they limit the hours that the courthouse is open and the public can be served. It is disgraceful what has been allowed to happen in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

    I agree with the others, I think Mr. Ilan Funke-Bilou would be a wake up call for the status quo legal community that is comfortable with a ‘Just Us’ justice system.

    Thank you, Mr. Stew Jenkins.

    George

    (2) 10 Total Votes - 6 up - 4 down
  2. giblets56 says:

    I agree, with AmericaTheFree! Our courts are doing NOTHING for justice! The judges hold their own personal grudges, attorneys charge a fortune and no one comes out being justly dealt with but these money hungry perverts who prey on the people of our society.

    (3) 11 Total Votes - 7 up - 4 down
  3. Mitch C says:

    It appears that a new court administrator is needed. The shortened work schedule and the new filing fees were obviously recommended to the judiciary and they went along for the ride. It won’t be easy to change the culture, but it can be done. I would bet that the staff morale is at a very low level; high staff morale can only be accomplished by being the best in all areas and producing above what is expected. Where is the local Bar, if they don’t bring the problems to the presiding judge either the problems won’t be addressed or remedied or they really don’t exist.

    (2) 10 Total Votes - 6 up - 4 down
  4. discloser says:

    From what I can see, Ilan Funke-Bilou is the only independent (trustworthy) candidate on the ballot.

    (13) 29 Total Votes - 21 up - 8 down
    • rukidding says:

      You are absolutely correct. Funke-Bilou as Judge would be a wake up call for the SLO judicial system. It’s very clear that those in place probably fear that he will be elected. Funke-Bilou is the only one who really knows how the local system works having been on “the other side” for years and because of that he will make the local system honest and fair for everyone.

      (2) 18 Total Votes - 10 up - 8 down
  5. AmericaTheFree says:

    Equal Access? You’re kidding me Stew, right? No such thing… I’ve been a litigant, also a defendant a time-or-two, and I can tell you with certainty there is no equal access to our justice system (you could change a bit of that though in SLOSC by getting rid of Judge LaBarbera).

    As much as I respect you my overall opinion of the justice system is one of outright contempt, starting with the good ol’ boy network consisting of lawyers, prosecutors and judges.

    I have a suggestion though, one that would probably make things a whole lot simpler with actual equal access; simplify the language so anyone can walk into a court room, present their case or defend themselves, without having to pay someone the hundreds of dollars an hour to interpret the law for you.

    (18) 26 Total Votes - 22 up - 4 down
    • AvilaBeachBum says:

      You are right Stew Jenkins! The lack of access to the courts is stunning. None of our Judges are elected and they not only don’t think they are responsible to the People that they are suppose to serve, they aren’t. The current Judges only run the courts for them. The Court Reporters got in their way so they did away with them. The People where taking up too much of their time so they cut access to the Clerk of the Court to keep filings down. All these cases have cut into the Judges personal time. They want to go downtown, get coffee, start their weekends early and all this riff raff just gets in their way of what they want. If we actually had court reporters than of this county could actually have a record to appeal. If they had that record the world might know of the terrible lack of justice the courts are failing to give people. The Judges make this as easy on themselves as possible. They have a list of standard offenses and standard times. They make sure they never make cops wait around. They always try to find people guilty and get annoyed when real people actually want a Jury Trial. It really interferes with Tee Times, taking off early and more vacation time. It is time for change, It’s time for an independent, elected Judges by the People. Vote for Ilan Funke-Bilu for Judge on June 5th. Democracy is in your hands.

      (0) 2 Total Votes - 1 up - 1 down

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