In Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero’s second State of the Judiciary Address this afternoon, on some issues, what was left unsaid and only implied was particularly significant. Delivered to a joint convention of the Legislature in the Assembly chambers, the speech was attended by, among others, the new legislative leaders (Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas and Senate President pro Tempore Mike McGuire), Governor Gavin Newsom, and five of Guerrero’s Supreme Court colleagues (Justices Carol Corrigan, Leondra Kruger, Joshua Groban, Martin Jenkins, and Kelli Evans).

Judicial precedents and ethics

Without mentioning the U.S. Supreme Court specifically, the Chief Justice made a point of expressing views that could be seen as implicitly drawing contrasts between the high court on the one hand and the court and judicial system she leads on the other.

Guerrero didn’t specifically reference recent controversial federal decisions in areas such as abortion and affirmative action when she stated that California’s judiciary “believe[s] in the value of precedent” and said for herself, “I believe that how courts interpret the law and adjudicate cases shouldn’t change dramatically when the members of a court change.”

Nor did the Chief Justice mention any of the high-profile ethics issues raised about the U.S. Supreme Court and some of its justices, but she reported that, in her State, “we embrace robust ethics standards . . . and we have misconduct oversight from an independent state agency.”

(Related: Throwing shade at SCOTUS?.)

Reporters’ transcripts

Another subject of implicit commentary concerned how to remedy what Guerrero called the “pressing issue” of “provid[ing] [litigants] with a verbatim record of their trial court proceedings.”

She said that, although “we all want and need more licensed court reporters,” the number of reporters “continues to decline and it threatens access to justice, especially for vulnerable Californians.” Quoting the Supreme Court’s opinion in Jameson v. Desta (2018) 5 Cal.5th 594 (see here), the Chief Justice said, “ ‘the absence of a verbatim record of trial court proceedings will often have a devastating effect on a litigant’s ability to have an appeal . . . decided on the merits.’ ” (Id. at p. 622.)

The Chief Justice told the legislators, “I look forward to working with you all to find practical solutions to this ongoing issue,” but unspoken was the Jameson decision’s express advocacy for electronic recording of court proceedings as one of those solutions. Electronic recording has been strongly, and effectively, opposed by court reporter organizations for years.

Supreme Court opinion output

Reiterating what she had told reporters in January, Guerrero said the court has “instituted internal targets for our court to meet” so as to increase the number of opinions it issues, a number which has been dramatically lower in recent years. (See here.) She said that, although “our annual number of opinions has trended up,” the justices “are working our way through some important landmark new laws, such as the Racial Justice Act, which is impacting our workflow.”

Other topics

Besides the above issues, which are of particular relevance to this blog’s focus, the Chief Justice addressed other matters, including the importance of not just diversity but inclusion (“As important as diversity is, if you’re not included, it doesn’t matter,” she quoted a Judicial Council member as saying), the judiciary’s obligation to play a role in closing the statewide budget deficit, the need to “address the many issues and questions presented by the developing field of artificial intelligence,” climate change, technology and accessing court services remotely, and the new CARE courts.

Saying she “remain[s] optimistic for the judicial branch and our state,” Guerrero devoted a significant portion of her speech to various civics education initiatives, including the Civic Learning Awards for public schools, the Judges in the Classroom program, and the Power of Democracy Civic Learning Initiative.

The Chief Justice concluded her address by quoting parts of the statement made by the court’s justices soon after George Floyd’s 2020 murder, a statement that “condemn[ed] racism in all its forms.” (See here.)

[March 20 update:

Video of the address is here. Text is here.

Malcolm Maclachlan reported in the Daily Journal: “Chief justice addresses budget and partisan attacks in state of the judiciary speech.”

Cheryl Miller reported in The Recorder: “California Chief Justice Calls on Lawmakers to Embrace Court Technology, Reject Attacks on Rulings.”

Alan Riquelmy reported for Courthouse News Service: “California’s chief justice delivers annual state of the judiciary.”]


Chief Justice Guerrero praises judicial diversity in her first State of the Judiciary address