Yesterday, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye held her last annual meeting with the press before her retirement in one month. At The Lectern attended the virtual conference.

Among the Chief Justice’s responses to questions were:

  • Bail reform. After a referendum defeating what would have been landmark bail statutes, changes in the future to the bail system will be by case law, not by legislation. (Related: here and here.)
  • The justice gap. “If there was anything that [the Judicial Council] and I left on the table,” it is addressing the continually growing justice gap that “is firmly rooted in social inequity, in racial, gender, [and] economic classifications and proxies.” She said California now “has its hands tied” by legislation preventing an exploration of using paraprofessionals to serve legal needs.
  • ADR shortcutting law development. The decrease in case filings in California is worrying. Cases are going to mediation or arbitration, or are not being filed at all because of the justice gap. This impedes the “[development of] the rule of law.” She wondered whether the courts in the future will see mostly cases where the litigants can’t afford alternative forums.
  • Judicial hellholes. When asked about California’s regular ranking by the Chamber of Commerce as among the nation’s top “judicial hellholes,” the Chief acknowledged that the Supreme Court’s reputation as being employee and consumer friendly is “probably accurate” (related: here), but it’s because of the statutes and wage orders the court is interpreting. “We don’t make this stuff up,” she said.
  • Judicial terms. Terms of office instead of lifetime appointments do not affect judicial decisions and they “keep judges and justices engaged with their community.” (Related: here and here.)
  • State Bar. Because “not a penny of general funds” goes to the State Bar, the Legislature and the Bar need to increase dues lawyers pay so that the Bar can “buy a competent computer system, hire more investigators, [and] revamp their disciplinary system.” Regarding the latter, the Chief said “the Bar needs to do an in-house cleaning and investigation of the Girardi” matters. (Related: here.) The Chief questioned “whether it makes sense” to have a one-year Bar chair who is reliant on Bar staff and she said there was “more action” when the chair was elected rather than, under a fairly recent change, appointed by the Supreme Court.
  • Mediator regulation. The State Bar should “regulate, oversee, [and] discipline mediators.”
  • Clemency. When asked why the court did not explain its reasons for rejecting ten of former Governor Jerry Brown’s requests for clemency recommendations (here and here), the Chief said the court doesn’t explain because, under the state constitution, “the court doesn’t have to explain.” (Here.) She added that the court couldn’t get to review-granted cases if the court had to write an opinion as to every clemency request made by a governor.
  • Loss of institutional memory. Despite recent or impending retirements of the Chief Justice, the court’s chief supervising attorney (here), and the heads of its criminal and capital central staffs (here and here), the Chief said she’s “very confident in the Supreme Court going forward.” She noted that chief supervising attorney Jake Dear — whom she highly praised — has offered to serve as a volunteer in retirement and that the new leaders of the central staffs are “long-accomplished, experienced attorneys in the Supreme Court.”
  • Narrow opinions. Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, which “write[s] broadly,” California Supreme Court opinions are “narrow.” (Related here and here.)
  • More time on cases. In contrast to the U.S. Supreme Court, California’s Supreme Court allows “a great deal of time” for attorneys to brief, and for the justices to consider and discuss, cases before a decision is made.
  • At The Lectern. The Chief Justice said she “always appreciate[s] [the] astute observations” in this blog and good naturedly said, “we always think you have a listening device at the Supreme Court.”

Media coverage of the meeting includes:

Cheryl Miller in The Recorder — “Lawmakers Should Raise Lawyer License Fees, Outgoing Chief Justice Says”

Bob Egelko in the San Francisco Chronicle — “One reason the California Supreme Court is less divided than SCOTUS? It has more women, says chief justice”

[December 3 update: Darrell Smith in the Sacramento Bee — “Outgoing chief justice, a trailblazer in California courts, says more barriers need to be broken”]

[December 6 update: Another Bob Egelko story in the San Francisco Chronicle — “Court cases in California have plummeted. Here’s why the state’s chief justice says it’s a very troubling sign”]