Recognition must be given to the courts, and that includes adequately funding them
More than 60 years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared May 1 to be Law Day, U.S.A., a national day established to celebrate the rule of law.
Six decades later, Law Day still provides an opportunity to understand how law and the legal process protect our liberty, strive to achieve justice, and contribute to the freedoms that all Americans share.
Trial lawyers like you know that these beliefs aren’t just words spoken one day a year; they are core beliefs that every CAALA member supports every day.
Each year, the American Bar Association designates a theme for Law Day. According to the ABA, “The 2019 Law Day theme – Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society – focuses on these cornerstones of representative government and calls on us to understand and protect these rights to ensure, as the U.S. Constitution proposes, ‘the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.’”
I’m a strong believer in those three cornerstones, especially the importance of protecting a Free Press and Free Speech. But, in my opinion, any Law Day recognition needs to highlight a fourth cornerstone: The Courts. There cannot be a Law Day in Los Angeles without recognizing the importance of the Judiciary.
As a trial lawyer association, CAALA provides many resources to its members. One of the most important is the relationship that has been built between our Association and the L.A. Superior Court.
For more than a decade CAALA’s leadership has strived to create connections with and provide support to the leadership of LASC. Lines of communication have been established that regularly allow the voices of CAALA members to be heard by the Court. Today, that relationship is better than ever. As changes take place at a rapid-fire pace in the L.A. Courts, CAALA members receive the benefit of the lines of communication that are now established.
The past nine years have been challenging ones for the Courts in Southern California. It started with the severe budget cuts imposed by the previous California governor. More than $1 billion was cut from the State Court budget, and more than a third of those cuts came from the L.A. Superior Court budgets.
Many of you remember attending CAALA meetings and hearing the words of a succession of LASC Presiding Judges describing the draconian cuts and the impact they would have on the L.A. Courts, especially on the civil courts.
At a recent gathering of attorneys and judges, L.A. Superior Court Presiding Judge Kevin Brazile revealed that when the financial times were most dire for the Court, one option was to shut down the civil courts completely. That didn’t happen, but in 2012 and 2013, 10 courthouses were closed, courtrooms were shuttered, court staff was laid off, court reporters for civil cases were eliminated and the legal practices of all civil trial attorneys in L.A. changed for the foreseeable future.
The Court did a great job managing the new budget reality, but the only way to reverse the effects of the budget cuts was to convince the state legislature that reinstatement of court funding was imperative to protecting the rights of California’s residents.
CAALA and our state association, CAOC, accepted the challenge and began a years-long process to educate the state’s elected officials and to strongly advocate for budget changes that would bring Court funding back to previous levels.
The efforts have succeeded, and today, for the first time in years, the budget news is not bleak, it is hopeful. For the first time in a long time, according to Judge Brazile, the Court budget is “adequate.” The Governor’s proposed budget for the Judicial Branch includes $275.2 million in new General Fund monies to support trial court operations, efficiencies and innovations, for a total budget of $3.16 billion (1.5% of the State General Fund).
But the task is not over, not by a longshot. Now the legislature must be convinced to keep the Governor’s proposed Court budget in place. There are also two additional ongoing judicial branch priorities that have not yet been addressed. First is funding for 25 previously approved but unfunded judgeships that would fill a critical judicial shortage in the trial courts with the greatest need; some in Southern California counties where many CAALA members practice. Second is adjustment of the one percent cap on Trial Court Reserves that will enable the Courts to better maintain public service levels when unanticipated costs and economic downturns occur.
Judge Brazile says that as partners with the Court, not only are CAALA members users of the Courts, they are also the “voice of the Courts.” He says to CAALA members: “We need you, it is a partnership, and CAALA members are the tip of the spear to ensure that legislators continue to fund the Courts.”
Without a strong, independent and properly financed Court, words spoken about Law Day and the rule of law ring hollow. CAALA members know this to be true and so does Judge Kevin Brazile and the leadership of the L.A. Superior Court. The budget is the number one priority of the Court and it’s also one of the most important priorities of CAALA.
Shawn McCann is a partner at Banafsheh, Danesh & Javid. He graduated from Loyola Law School in 2003. Shawn handles a broad variety of cases regarding personal injury and product liability. He serves on the Board of Governors for Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles and Consumer Attorneys of California and was recently admitted into American Board of Trial Advocates. He currently serves as CAALA President.
Copyright © 2020 by the author.
For reprint permission, contact the publisher: Advocate Magazine