By Patrick Kelly, Guest Alumni Blogger
Regarding the crisis in the courts that I discussed in my previous blog post, I have been asked "What is the Bar doing about it?" The answer is: The Bar as an agency of the government can only take limited action; however, it is strongly supporting the work of the Bench-Bar Coalition and the Open Courts Coalition that exist for the sole purpose of keeping the courts open for the public through increased funding. I am on the steering committee of the latter group, chaired by Paul Kiesel and Naill McCarthy, and we are working together to facilitate budget discussions between the various departments of the court.
More importantly, we have been regularly meeting with court officials, representatives of the executive branch and legislators. For example, on March 11, both the BBC and the OCC traveled to Sacramento to meet with legislators and support the court by attending the Chief Justice's State of the Court address. I personally met with many legislators, including the chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, to underscore the crisis and secure full funding for our courts. I am pleased to say that everyone with whom we met understands the importance of the issue to their constituents and agrees we are at risk of losing many of the benefits of our justice system. To a person they support increased funding for the courts.
The question remains, "Where do we get the money?" That can be answered in part by using part of the budget surplus we have been told will exist. However, the real answer is for the executive and legislative branches to elevate the judicial branch to the very top of their priority scale. Why? The answer is simple: The court system is the gatekeeper for the rights of all Californians. It provides the only vehicle to enforce their rights under all of the other programs and agencies the legislature funds. All of the bills and laws in the world make no difference if there is no viable court system to enforce them. Thus the separate branch of government that is our justice system is integral to all other laws and programs, and indeed they cannot exist without it. Stated otherwise, although only taking 1 percent of the state's general fund, the courts must remain available to enforce 100 percent of the rights of 100 percent of Californians no matter what the right or law they are seeking to enforce.
What can you do to help ameliorate this crisis? We must come together to reach out to the legislature and the executive branch and to enlist the aid of community organizations in this quest. Now is the time to call your assembly members and senators and let them know how important this issue is to their constituents who even now are being denied their constitutional right to access to justice. Your voice will count.
Patrick Kelly is the Western Region Managing Partner at Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP and president of the California State Bar. A recipient of Loyola's Distinguished Alumni Award, he sits on the board of the Law School's Advocacy Institute and was elected to the Law School's Board of Overseers.