Contra Costa Lawyer - November 2020 Bench Bar Issue

Page 1

Contra Costa


Volume 33 Number 6 | NOVEMBer 2020


CCCBA Membership Helps You Grow... At the CCCBA, we are dedicated to helping you grow! Just look at the resources that are available to CCCBA members all year long. Education – GROW Your Knowledge – Learn from our outstanding MCLE presenters. Referrals – GROW your Business – Gain clients through our 24/7 Lawyer Referral Service. Court – GROW your Connections –Stay connected and informed about changes at our local courts. Networking – GROW your Contacts – Keep in touch with colleagues, meet new people. Leadership – GROW your Skills – Serve on a committee, section or Board of Directors. Exposure – GROW your Reach –Build your brand through advertising and sponsorship opportunities. Pro Bono – GROW your Support – Give back to the community. Discounts – GROW your Savings – Take advantage of our Member Benefit provider discounts. Diversity – GROW your Understanding – Participate in our Racial Reconciliation Forum, Diversity Townhalls, Law Firm Diversity Checklist Award.

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Contra Costa  2020 BOARD of DIRECTORS Oliver Greenwood President Mika Domingo Secretary Dorian Peters Treasurer James Wu Past President David Erb Mark LeHocky David Marchiano Ericka McKenna Cary McReynolds Craig Nevin

David Pearson Michael Pierson David Ratner Summer Selleck Marta Vanegas Qiana Washington

CCCBA   EXECUTIVE   DIRECTOR Theresa Hurley | 925.370.2548 | CCCBA main office 925.686.6900 |

Barbara Arsedo Carole Lucido

LRIS & Moderate Means Director

Communications Director

Jennifer Comages Anne K. Wolf Membership Director

Education & Events Director

Emily Day

Systems and Operations Director

Contra Costa Lawyer CO-EDITORS EDITORIAL BOARD Samantha Sepehr Ann Battin 925.287.3540 510.234-2808

Marcus Brown Matthew Cody 925.482.8950 916.718.8938

BOARD LIAISON Perry Novak Mark LeHocky 925.746.7278 510.693.6443 Marta Vanegas COURT LIAISON 925.937.5433 Kate Bieker Andrew Verriere 925.957.5600 925.317.9113

DESIGN Lorraine Walsh Carole Lucido 925.932.7014 925.370.2542 Christina Weed ADVERTISING 925.953.2920 Carole Lucido

Lawyer Volume 32, Number 6 | November 2019

The official publication of the


Another Changing of the Guard, by Hon. Barry Baskin, Presiding Judge . . . . . . . . 7 A New Way of Managing Case Assignments in Criminal, by Hon. Rebecca Hardie, Assistant Presiding Judge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Civil Division, by Hon. Steven Austin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Criminal Courts, by Hon. Theresa Canepa. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Family Law, by Hon. Danielle Douglas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Juvenile Division, by Hon. Barbara Hinton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Moving Ahead with the Times, but the Song Remains the Same, by Hon. Virginia George. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21


Inside, What Does the Future Bring?, by Kate Bieker, Guest Editor. . . . . . . . . . . . 4

MORE Judicial Assignments. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5


What You Missed in the October Issue


Classified Advertising

24 Advertiser Index


PRINTING Modern Litho 800.456.5867

The Contra Costa Lawyer (ISSN 1063-4444) is published 11 times in 2020 – five times onlineonly – by the Contra Costa County Bar Association (CCCBA), 2300 Clayton Road, Suite 520, Concord, CA 94520. Annual subscription of $25 is included in the membership dues. Periodical postage paid at Concord, CA. POSTMASTER: send address change to the Contra Costa Lawyer, 2300 Clayton Road, Suite 520, Concord, CA 94520. The Lawyer welcomes and encourages articles and letters from readers. Please send them to contracostalawyer@ The CCCBA reserves the right to edit articles and letters sent in for publication. All editorial material, including editorial comment, appearing herein represents the views of the respective authors and does not necessarily carry the endorsement of the CCCBA or the Board of Directors. Likewise, the publication of any advertisement is not to be construed as an endorsement of the product or service offered unless it is specifically stated in the ad that there is such approval or endorsement.

Everyone at the CCCBA wishes you a happy and safe Thanksgiving. Thank you for being a member of the Contra Costa County Bar Association!



INSIDE What Does the Future Bring? by Kate Bieker, Court Executive Officer How do you plan for a future when

the court into the future. These past

and I learn something each time. I

all you know and are accustomed

six months have brought us chal-

also want to thank the amazing court

to is no longer considered normal?

lenges that we could have never

staff without which we do not func-

Many of the articles in this edition

anticipated, and our Presiding Judge


talk about the ways the court has had

has been engaged in every step to

management team who have been a

to recreate a new normal. We have

guide our path. Judge Hardie will

super power that has kept this court

been creative to say the least and

face many challenges in the new

functioning and given a sense of

leaped into a technology period that

year as well, but will be building on

normalcy for us all.

would have taken years to enter.

a solid foundation.

A special thank you to the

Here’s to a healthy 2021! Enjoy this I am optimistic about the court’s

We are one year into our new traffic

future despite a massive $4.3 million

case management system and things

state budget cut. We have endured

went as smoothly as we hoped. I am

staff layoffs and made hard cuts to

very excited to say we are knee deep

our overall budget to partly address

into implementation of our new case

this. At this time, having made solid

management system for all other case

financial decisions in the last fiscal

types... this includes true e-filing! We

year, we have been fortunate to not

have chosen Odyssey, a system that

need staff furloughs to offset this

28 other courts throughout the state

large cut. The economic forecast for

are using. It is an incredible amount

the state is unknown and we will

of work that has been led by Han Lee

continue to address our situation as

and the Management and Informa-

we learn more.

tion Technology teams at the court. A more dedicated group could not

Leadership is not the word that

be asked for.

could describe what Judge Baskin


has provided for the court these

I want to thank all the judges who

past two years. The decisions that

have written an article for this

needed to be made had never been

edition. They bring a unique insight

harder and affected every aspect of

to their case area, especially this year,



Rebecca C. Hardie Presiding Judge

Theresa Canepa

Assistant Presiding Judge


Pittsburg Civil

Supervising Judge: Theresa Canepa

Supervising Judge: Steven Austin

Hon. Charles (Ben) Burch Hon. John Cope Hon. Leslie Landau Hon. Mary Ann O’Malley Hon. Terri Mockler Hon. Rebecca C. Hardie (Arraignments) Hon. Nancy Stark (PVs, PRCS, Parole, DVC, Warrants) Hon. Laurel Brady (Mental Health)

Hon. Barry Baskin Hon. Jill Fannin Hon. Clare Maier Hon. Ed Weil (Complex)

Misdemeanor Depts. Hon. John Devine Hon. Joni Hiramoto Open Judicial Slot

Warrants/EPO/ After Hours Hon. Lewis Davis

Family Law

Supervising Judge: David Goldstein Hon. Wade Rhyne Hon. Steve Treat Comm. Gina Dashman Open Judicial Slot


Supervising Judge: Danielle Douglas

Supervising Judge: Christopher Bowen

Hon. Wendy Coats Hon. Brian Haynes Hon. Linda Lye Hon. Cheryl Mills (until 1/1/21)** Hon. Benjamin Reyes Comm. Christine Donovan

Hon. Julia Campins Hon. Leonard Marquez Hon. Judy Johnson (until 2/21)* Hon. Patricia Scanlon Comm. Jennifer Lee

Juvenile Supervising Judge: Barbara Hinton Hon. John Kennedy Hon. Anita Santos

Probate Supervising Judge: Virginia George Hon. Susanne Fenstermacher





INSIGHT Another Changing of the Guard by Honorable Barry Baskin, Presiding Judge

Almost four years have passed since I took office as the Assistant Presiding Judge, and two years since becoming Presiding Judge. Every incoming PJ must expect occasional challenges on contentious issues, but two wholly unexpected challenges arose. First, the chaos of the pandemic demanded urgent solutions to complex problems, practically on a daily basis. Second, the protests in Martinez and elsewhere highlighted the need for our court to publicly adopt a policy championing the elimination of racism and bias. We are proud of our policy statement, prominently displayed on our website. When the pandemic hit, we were the first California county to close its courts on March 16, 2020. We reopened to a new normal on May 26th and have been trying to keep everyone safe, while respecting the rights guaranteed by the court. As I write this, the pandemic is on an apparent upswing and our budget in a precipitous decline. There is no telling how much longer we will be able to offer the array of services now available. My service was made possible by the incredible contributions of too many to list, but I must single out Kate Bieker for her tireless efforts to keep our court on track and within budget, an increasingly daunting task. Kate is a CEO who actually works in the trenches and knows how to ensure that justice is accessible.

Judge Rebecca Hardie, our incoming PJ, who so ably assisted me during my tenure, is highly qualified to lead our court for the next two years. Under her leadership, the court will truly enter the 21st century. New case management systems will be implemented. Also, she will be leading our efforts to convert to a more efficient direct calendaring system for Criminal, the last holdout with a master calendar. All other divisions have used direct calendaring for decades. Finally, I am grateful to all of my colleagues for their support and hard work, without which our court would not have succeeded. I am also grateful for help from so many members of the Bar, especially those who advocate for judicial independence—a principle that has become critical in these trying times.

and our court in particular. I know our strong leadership will bring our court safely, if not stronger, through this crisis. I move on to my next assignment, Civil, in 2021, and look forward to seeing many of you there.

We cannot underestimate the challenges facing our judiciary in general

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A New Way of Managing Case Assignments in Criminal By Hon. Rebecca C. Hardie, Assistant Presiding Judge For the attorneys practicing criminal law in Contra Costa County, you have undoubtedly experienced the frenetic master calendar call, every Monday through Thursday. The task of assigning cases from the often long list of 20+ felony matters calendared for trial -- and as many for preliminary hearings -- seemingly becomes a game of rummy cube as the supervising judge, often appearing as air traffic control in a congested flight path, juggles case assignments and manages judicial resources all the while concerned with ensuring statutory deadlines are met. This fire drill system of case assignment has led to periods of feast or famine -- cases log-jammed to be assigned to a trial department or departments dark and without work causing under-utilization of court resources. Judge Baskin formed a committee of judges in 2019 to conduct a review and analysis of our master calendaring system. For years, juvenile, family and civil cases have been directly assigned to departments at the time of case filing. After many months spent comparing and contrasting our master calendar system with other counties that utilize various iterations of direct calendaring in criminal cases, the committee recommended that the court implement direct calendar assignment in all felony matters. The recommendation was adopted by a majority vote of the Executive Committee in November 2019 with

an implementation date of January 2021. In preparation for implementation, several judges, CEO Kate Bieker and support staff took a field trip to another court in order to observe and discuss direct calendaring with judges, administration, and clerical staff who have experienced the transition from master calendar to direct calendar assignment. There have also been discussions with the justice partners to disseminate information and coordinate planning. The COVID-19 pandemic and court closure briefly disrupted the planning process, but the court is pressing forward and the judicial assignments for 2021 were made in anticipation of the implementation of the new system in January.

East or West County will continue to be assigned in Martinez based on resources and security issues.

Cases will be assigned for all purposes (for preliminary hearing through resolution) at the time a defendant is arraigned on the initial charging document. The arraignments will be handled in Martinez by one dedicated arraignment department. There will be eight judges assigned to handle felony cases assigned from the arraignment department. For the first time, we will have one dedicated felony judge in each branch courthouse and there will be a significant number of felony cases handled at the Richmond and Pittsburg courthouses, from preliminary hearing through trial. This will allow better access to local court resources for many. Some cases originating in

Although there are likely to be some “growing pains� and hiccups along the way as the court implements a new process for case assignments, we are optimistic there will be efficiencies gained in case management that will benefit defendants, victims and their families, attorneys, and the court.

In addition to the arraignment and trial departments, there will be two specialty courts, including a mental health court and a department that will handle an assortment of matters such as probation, parole and PRCS (Post Release Community Supervision) violations, and the domestic violence review calendar. The misdemeanor cases will continue to be assigned from a master calendar system and will be heard in Martinez, Richmond, and Pittsburg. We anticipate having a second judge assigned to oversee misdemeanor matters in Martinez, including assisting with misdemeanor trials.



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Civil Division

By Hon. Steve Austin, Supervising Judge of the Civil Division

There really isn’t much to report this year from Civil. Not much new or different. Same old, same old. I wish! Just as in all other parts of our lives, everything has changed and changed again in the Civil Department. And it will continue changing as we adapt to the new reality of providing access to justice in the COVID world. Nothing in my 22 years on the bench prepared me to manage through the unique obstacles to a functioning court process created by this pandemic. How do we issue emergency civil harassment restraining orders when the doors to the courthouse are closed? How do we review and rule on emergency ex parte motions when the parties can’t come into the courtroom? How do we reschedule the thousands of civil hearings that were vacated during the shutdown? How do we operate a procedurally fair hearing or trial when all parties are appearing remotely? How do we provide public access to those remote proceedings? Every day since our court closed on March 16, 2020 we have been wrestling with these and countless other tough questions. We started the process of reopening by issuing Civil Emergency Local Rules that allowed us to handle some limited essential matters while the court remained physically closed to the public. As we have expanded services, these rules have been amended several times. I am certain that they will continue to be amended frequently in the coming months as we react to new

developments related to the virus. Please make a habit of checking our website at least once a week to keep up to date on any changes that could affect your practice. Early on during the shutdown we made the decision to prioritize the resumption of all civil calendars as soon as we could safely do so. This turned out to be extremely difficult to accomplish. Due to the pandemic, we had limited staff available to reset hearings that had been vacated and to set new hearings going forward. But by late May we were able to resume all civil hearings, including case management conferences and law and motion hearings. This was several weeks earlier than most courts around the state. Although we still have backlogs and delays, we are better able to address them because we resumed normal calendars relatively quickly. Thanks to our dedicated and hardworking courtroom clerks and staff that made all of this possible. While all of our clerks have been doing an amazing job, we are still experiencing delays in getting papers filed and orders issued. Understandably, we have had COVID-related staffing issues. Because of social distancing requirements only a few windows can be opened to accept filings in the clerk’s office and only a few members of the public at a time can be let in the door. This has led to more documents being mailed to the court

and left in the drop box. It takes substantially more time to process those documents, which has also led to backlogs and delays. Thank you all for your patience as we work through these issues. Although our civil courtroom doors remain locked for most matters, the remote CourtCall hearings are working well under the circumstances. We have been able to establish a muted public “listen only” line through CourtCall for each department to provide public access to all of these hearings. We are also conducting settlement conferences and evidentiary hearings, including bench trials, via Zoom. The Zoom settlement conferences have been very effective. Judge Fannin has even figured out how to conduct two of them at the same time! As we all get more familiar with remote video technology, it is likely that it will be used for a variety of other civil proceedings. Speaking of trials, as of this writing we have not conducted any civil jury trials since we reopened. That does not mean that we are unable to conduct civil jury trials, however. All of the cases set for jury trial have either settled or have been continued at the request of the parties due to COVID-related discovery delays. On most days we have plenty of jurors available and we have adequate staffing to conduct trials. When they do get started, civil jury

Continued on page 12




Continued from page 11 trials won’t look much like what all of us are used to. Masks will be required for all trial participants. Social distancing will be strictly enforced, meaning that most of the jurors will watch the trial from the gallery. Parts or all of the trial may be conducted on Zoom. Witnesses may have to testify by video remote or through pre-recorded video. It will certainly be a new and challenging experience for everyone involved. We are fortunate that we will have a fantastic group of civil judges to take on this challenge. Judge Baskin will be returning to civil in 2021, following his service as Presiding Judge. He will join me, Judge Fannin, Judge Weil and Judge Treat to form a group with more than 80 years of judicial experience. Finally, I’d like to thank Judge Burch, who will be returning to a criminal assignment after a year of excellent work handling both unlimited jurisdiction cases and all of our limited jurisdiction matters. I’m hopeful that when I write this article next year everything in court and in our lives will be back to normal. In the meantime, thank you all for your patience, cooperation and support as we make our way through these very unusual times.



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Criminal Courts By Hon. Theresa Canepa,

Supervising Judge of the Criminal Division

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” –John Lennon John Lennon had it right---if it’s not the end, then we must endure, keep our perspective in check, and continue to hope that things will get better. Normally, this article would be devoted to case filings, assignments, and trial statistics. On March 16, 2020, however, normalcy was suspended with the closure of our court. Suffice it to say that in this COVID era, filings are down across the board, as are trials and preliminary hearings. Nearly all operations ceased until we could create both a Criminal Emergency Court and a Virtual Court so that we could continue to process matters that posed the greatest urgency. The court remained closed to the public until May 26, 2020. In the interim, we received directives from the Contra Costa Health Department to assist in re-opening, which included requiring masks of anyone entering the courthouse, installing protective Plexiglas at witness stands and at the jury box in our courtrooms, providing hand sanitizers for the jury, spacing the jurors throughout the courtroom, providing a live feed of our trials to the public as only 23 people could be seated in the courtroom during sessions, placing stand-up sanitizers at each floor of the Bray Courthouse and at each end of the floors, and re-routing the staircase

to provide one way up and one way down. Additionally, only 50 jurors are summonsed at one time, which allows the court to socially distance the courtroom for hardships, and while the jurors return in staggered fashion, they seem to appreciate all the efforts the court has made to ensure their safety and that of court personnel. Worth noting is the fact that the juror turnout has been amazing, probably due to COVID “overload,” for lack of a better term. Our trial judges have done a stellar job of managing trials given the difficult restrictions placed upon them: Judges Cope, Stark, Santos, Hardie, Scanlon, and O’Malley deserve our thanks for their efficiency and productivity. Our calendar departments, run by Judges Brady and Goldstein (felonies) and Judges Mockler and Rhyne (now working in Pittsburg) have managed to keep the cases flowing despite all the roadblocks newly presented to them.

As to the Pittsburg branch court, Supervising Judge Judy Johnson provides this update:

The Richard E. Arnason Justice Center is on par to match 2019’s court volume, despite being closed for two and a half months in 2020




Continued from page 13 due to the COVID-19 virus. Through June of this year, we conducted 1,413 arraignments. Our small claims, unlawful detainers and jury trials decreased substantially as the result of Supreme Court orders suspending these proceedings again because of pandemic protocols. By August we were operating at full capacity, reducing our backlog of pending matters. Effective August 24th, Judge Wade Rhyne returned to Pittsburg, joining Judges Leonard Marquez and Wendy Coats and our new Commissioner Gina Dashman.

The Richmond branch court update, by Supervising Judge Christopher Bowen, includes the following:

Despite being “one judge down,” Richmond has held its own

throughout 2020, keeping up with a busy schedule of jury trials, preliminary hearings, misdemeanor arraignments, domestic violence and civil harassment restraining order hearings, and small claims/ traffic/unlawful detainer matters. The bench lineup includes Judges John Devine, Julia Campins, and Christopher Bowen and Commissioner Jennifer Lee. During court closure, Richmond successfully implemented virtual misdemeanor pretrial and changeof-plea calendars that are popular with attorneys and litigants alike. As always, the staff in Richmond turned in a nearly flawless performance in setting (and re-setting) hundreds of civil and criminal matters during and after court closure. The challenges facing our court, our community, and our world notwithstanding, the George D. Carroll Courthouse continues to be a place where staff, attorneys, parties, jurors, other members of the

public and bench officers love to be!

As to the Martinez calendars

In January, 2021, a big change will be coming to Criminal in the form of Direct Calendar. Judge Hardie, currently Assistant Presiding Judge, discusses that change in her article in this issue. Relating back to the partial court closure, we need to extend a special thanks to all the judges who helped the court run as well as could be expected in a time of pandemic. As to our justice partners, thanks in the Emergency Court go to Brooks Osborne and Brandon Banks from the Public Defender’s office, Dominique Yancy from the District Attorney’s office, and Anthony Ashe, who handled the majority of matters for the Conflicts Panel. The Sheriff’s Department provided extra staffing to help move the cases along and we could not have operated as smoothly as we did without their assistance. The same is true for the Virtual Court, which included the efforts of Chris Walpole from the District Attorney’s office, Rebecca Brachman of the Public Defender’s office, and Bill Green from the Conflicts Panel. We could not have run these departments without the help of CEO Kate Bieker, Managers Diana Ghirardo and Sarah Passot, and all the other clerks who worked very hard in the most difficult time period we have seen in the court’s history. Here’s hoping that next year, at this time, we’ll be back to reporting on case filings, assignments, and trial statistics. In the interim, stay healthy and safe!





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Family Law By Hon. Danielle Douglas Supervising Judge of the Family Law Division This year the court has faced many challenges. However in Family Court, the challenges have created many opportunities. Technology is being utilized to hold remote hearings and mediation by Zoom. The court has implemented contactless means of filing domestic violence restraining orders and other family law requests. The court closure has allowed the family law building to be given a much needed face lift. In an effort to keep staff, attorneys, and litigants safe, most family law hearings have shifted from in-person hearings to remote hearings held by Zoom. While there was a huge learning curve to using Zoom, all are becoming experts now. Breakout rooms and shared screens are becoming second nature to judges and attorneys. Family law hearings are even being reported through the use of court reporters present remotely on Zoom hearings. The court has been able to continue mediations remotely through the use of Zoom. Now litigants can safely mediate their custody issues without having to come to court. Zoom hearings have been quite successful. The no-show rate has been reduced now that litigants can appear from home or work. Litigants and attorneys being able to appear from their homes or offices has reduced travel costs especially for out-of-state litigants and attorneys. More litigants are able to afford attorneys because of the reduced cost when hearings are held by Zoom. Providing remote mediations through Zoom has provided

additional security for domestic violence victims. All of these factors have made the use of Zoom an efficient way to better serve the community in Contra Costa County. While there are many, many positives about remote hearings through Zoom, there are still many challenges presented by having remote hearings. Sound quality and internet connection can be barriers to presenting your case to the judge and an even greater barrier to an accurate record. Self-represented litigants often do not know how to present exhibits to judges on the day of the remote hearing. The court has only been able to offer limited Tier II mediations due to access issues. As these unique challenges occur, courts continue to find innovative ways of solving the issues presented. Still these challenges create opportunities such as creating electronic exhibits delivered to the court through electronic means. Ensuring that the court can provide much needed services to our most vulnerable litigants in the face of a global pandemic, the court has created an email account for filing requests for domestic violence restraining orders. The email account has created an expeditious, efficient, and remote means for domestic violence victims to request a restraining order. The court has also invested in a drop box stationed outside the family law building from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm so that litigants and attorneys can file documents safely by limiting contact with other individuals.

The court closure has enabled the family law lobby and the downstairs offices to be recarpeted. The new carpet looks fabulous. Now with hearings being conducted remotely and courtrooms empty, all the family law courtrooms, as well as the back clerk’s office and judge’s chambers are being re-carpeted as well. We welcomed two new judges to family law this year. Judge Linda Lye started her family law assignment in January. Judge Ben Reyes started his family law assignment in June. Both come to the Bench with civil litigation experience and have applied their thoughtful, wellbalanced approach to their family law cases. Beginning January 2021 the family law department will lose Judge Cheryl Mills. Fortunately, Judge Mills was able to offer assistance to the family department upon reopening the courts to reduce the backlog of settlement conferences and trials. With all the challenges already faced in family law, the family law department is losing our director, Jim Paulsen, and two amazing courtroom clerks, Jocelyn Lewis and Leizl Villaspin. It will be tough to replace their dedication, hard work, and overall positive attitude to serving the Contra Costa County community. Of course, the family law department will continue to meet the needs of the Contra Costa community even in the absence of our much valued family law director and courtroom clerks.



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Juvenile Division By Hon. Barbara Hinton, Supervising Judge of the Juvenile Division The year 2020 has been marked by and limited access to the courts, a ings, the the unprecedented advent of the great number of juvenile depensubmissions worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. dency and juvenile justice partners of matters for stipulated orders and Due to the shelter-in-place orders and stakeholders rose to the occafindings, and the ultimate migraissued by Governor Gavin Newsom sion and worked collaboratively tion to remote hearings via Zoom. in March, each courthouse shut with the juvenile judges to ensure When the Chief Justice issued the down countywide for over two the continuity of access to the court, statewide emergency orders on months. Initially, there was a sole and to improvise and adapt to the April 6th, we were in many ways courtroom located in Martinez desigpandemic-related rapidly evolving ahead of the curve related to the nated to handle very limited mandated prioritization emergency matters. Effec- In the face of uncertainty, logistical of the matters requiring tive March 30th, the Walnut prompt judicial attention Creek Courthouse opened obstacles, and limited access to the such as: detention heara sole “emergency” courtings, psychotropic medicourts, a great number of juvenile room to handle primarily cation requests, emerjuvenile dependency and dependency and juvenile justice gency medical requests, juvenile justice detention Welfare and Institution hearings. Each juvenile partners and stakeholders rose to the Code (WIC) 388 motions judge rotated through the modify, warrant hearoccasion and worked collaboratively to “emergency” courtroom to ings and reentry requests preside over time-sensitive with the juvenile judges to ensure for nonminor depenurgent matters. During the dents. Local emergency court closure the clerk’s the continuity of access to the court, orders were implemented office remained closed to to address the compliand to improvise and adapt to the the public, and a drop box cating factors that arose in was utilized for emergency pandemic-related rapidly evolving relation to visitation, the filings. initiation of virtual hearchallenges of comprehensive judicial ings, and establishing a The shelter-in-place comprotocol for the stipulapelled courtwide shutdown oversight of cases involving youth and tion and order process to and concomitant drastic families. adjudicate reviews and reduction of the in-person non-contested matters. operations of Children and In regard to the juvenile Family Services and the Probachallenges of comprehensive judijustice matters, partners and staketion Department posed many chalcial oversight of cases involving holders were able to identify and lenges regarding maintaining and youth and families. The court mainprioritize urgent cases necessitating continuing essential court operatained an open line of communicaprompt judicial attention and detertions in juvenile matters. Many tion between the justice partners and mination, devise a mechanism to attorneys, social workers and probastakeholders via multiple conferstipulate to the supervised release tion officers were working remotely ence calls, emails and ultimately via from Juvenile Hall of low-level away from their respective offices. Zoom. offenders who posed no community Throughout mid-March to early safety risks, and to cooperate with May, all juvenile calendars came to In the dependency realm, we were the transition to virtual hearings. a grinding halt, and a rising backlog able to problem solve and reach of cases ensued. In the face of such numerous agreements related to the Continued on page 20 uncertainty, logistical obstacles, administration of detention hearCONTRA COSTA COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION CONTRA COSTA LAWYER


Juvenile Division

Continued from page 19 Upon the court’s reopening on May 26th, the juvenile judges have primarily been conducting their respective calendars via the Zoom platform, to ensure compliance with the public health safety guidelines mandating physical distancing of a minimum of six feet apart, the wearing of masks, and the strict limitations related to small gatherings of individuals. The pivot to primarily remote hearings has been hugely successful due to the level of flexibility, cooperation and creativity on the part of the juvenile attorneys, Children and Family Services, Probation and other stakeholders. The resumption of the daily calendars has lessened the burden of the backlogs, and most importantly enabled each juvenile department to conduct all types of hearings, instead of just “emergency” hearings—thereby permitting full access to the courts once again. Each department handles live hearings as well, but on a much more limited basis. Each juvenile department divides the daily calendars in the following manner: the mornings are designated for remote Zoom hearings, and the afternoons are reserved for live in-person hearings. Some departments hold readiness conferences one court day before the scheduled calendar to assess which cases are able to be called on Zoom. It is unclear how long the courts will need to utilize virtual formats and platforms. Remote hearings are a suitable alternative for live hearings, but can’t entirely capture the fundamental formality and nuances of in-person hearings. There are inherent inescapable challenges accompanied with remote hearings in juvenile matters, such as issues of “connectivity” (poor or unstable coverage), impediments in providing paperwork, and replicating the courtroom environ20


ment, etc. All of the partners and stakeholders, court clerks, court reporters, parties and countless others have exercised great patience and cooperation in adapting to the “new normal.” In closing, it is important to note that while this has been a remarkably challenging year, I have been extremely impressed with the ingenuity, comradery, creativity, resiliency and decency of the juvenile community of dependency and justice partners and stakeholders. During chaotic, uncertain times, the stakeholders and partners collaborated together for the good of the youth, parents and families. Many thanks to my fellow colleagues for their contributions during the court shutdown, without which we would not have emerged from two and a half months, ready to handle “business as usual.” Judge Landau created the stipulated request and order form for the submission on reports without a hearing (J-001),

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paving the way for the adjudication of reviews and non-contested matters without a court hearing, and greatly limiting avalanche-like backlogs. Judge Kennedy facilitated the implementation of Zoom both in the criminal and juvenile divisions, enabling the seamless transition to remote hearings. Judge Mockler reviewed a staggering amount of WIC section 827 requests, as well as presided over the majority of the WIC 602 matters in May and June. I would like to recognize Karen Cardinale, the court manager, for her unwavering assistance during the court closure and reopening, as well the incredible crew of bailiffs, volunteer courtroom clerks and court reporters that staffed the “emergency” courtroom. Lastly, I wanted to thank Judge Landau for her excellent work during her threeyear tenure in the juvenile assignment, and to welcome Judge Santos who will be replacing Judge Landau in January of 2021.

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Probate Department

Moving Ahead With the Times, but the Song Remains the Same by Honorable Virginia George, Supervising Judge of the Probate Division

Given the many transformations we have seen in 2020, the Probate department hit the ground running with changes early in the year. After a long and successful tenure, Judge John H. Sugiyama retired from the bench in February. Presiding Judge Barry Baskin, supported by Court Executive Officer Kate Bieker, foresaw the need for two full-time probate judges and placed Judge Virginia M. George as supervising judge, and Judge Susanne M. Fenstermacher to operate the probate division. Prior to the court closure on March 16, 2020, and while the workload continued to increase, Probate Examiners Erica Gillies and Susan Long moved ahead with the addition of the second judge, handling the increasing caseload efficiently and professionally. Up until the closure, retired Probate Examiner Linda Suppanich was also filling in to offer relief. Experienced courtroom clerks Shannon Perry and Julie Winn have been working with Departments 30 and 15, respectively, keeping the courts organized, while maintaining the many important details of courtroom management.

The “new normal� of the probate court will continue to have litigants utilize the drop boxes outside the Taylor Courthouse for ex parte matters and requested filings. Please also be aware that ex parte matters may not be available for pickup for 48 hours. For the foreseeable future, the probate file examiners will not be directly meeting with parties as in former times, but are available by telephone to field questions and provide information to counsel and self-represented parties regarding their probate matters. Parties are welcome to appear either in person or via CourtCall in both departments and additionally via Zoom in Department 30. Currently, both departments are also handling the LPS conservatorship trial and status calendars on Tuesdays. These matters are interspersed between the probate bench trials that each department has scheduled, primarily for half days in the afternoons.

viewing proposed conservatees via Zoom or Skype to ensure the safety of all involved. Filing stats for the year to date mirror the impact of the court closure and re-opening surge while ultimately leveling off to pre-closure numbers: January: 146; February: 122; March: 110; April: 60; May: 118; June: 167; July: 123; August: 144. The probate court greatly appreciates the extraordinary efforts of research attorney Julie Woods and probate facilitator Robin Towse. They are professional, diligent and extremely valuable in the day-today operations of the probate division. Finally, a special shout out to all of the probate attorneys who volunteer to sit pro tem for both departments when the judges are away. We very much appreciate their expertise as well as their time.

Given the constraints imposed by COVID, the intrepid court investigators for the probate division are moving forward with their investigations and subsequent reports for conservatorship matters by inter-



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The October Issue of Contra Costa Lawyer – Here’s What You Missed in The Voting Issue

Thank you to Marta Vanegas, Guest Editor Find it online at

Features: • Votes for Women, the Constitution and the Courts, by Courtney O’Brien • “Don’t Get Mad, Get Elected”– Lessons from Local Lawyers’ Campaigns for Office, A Roundtable by Marta Vanegas • The Conference of Delegates: Lawyers Speaking Up to Improve California Laws, by Maggie Grover • All California Registered Voters Will Receive VoteBy-Mail Ballots, But Litigation Over Voting Rights Intensifies, by Matt Cody • Touching the Third Rail: The California Initiative Process, Proposition 13, and the Effort to Fix It, by Christina Weed and Marta Vanegas • Q&A regarding Contra Costa County Protocols for the forthcoming Election, by Ann Harding Battin

Columns: • “Responsibility for the Future” - Voting and Political Participation in Our County, by Marta Vanegas



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JAMS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 LawPay . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co. 10 Law Offices of Oliver Bray . . . 22 24


Candice Stoddard . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Michael J. Young . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

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