San Francisco—William C. Vickrey, Administrative Director of the Courts, today announced the appointment of members to the Elkins Family Law Task Force, a new statewide panel that will strive to improve efficiency and fairness in family law proceedings.Wow. Appointing Comm. Joseph to this is like appointing OJ Simpson to a task force on domestic violence.
To be chaired by Associate Justice Laurie D. Zelon of the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District (Los Angeles), the task force will conduct a comprehensive review of family law proceedings and recommend changes to increase access to justice, ensure due process, and provide for more effective and consistent rules, policies, and procedures. ...
The task force was appointed in response to a California Supreme Court opinion, Elkins v. Superior Court, 41 Cal.4th 1337, filed August 6, 2007. Authored by Chief Justice George, the unanimous opinion held that marital dissolution trials should proceed under the same general rules of procedure that govern other civil trials.
Members of the legal community and public who wish to share ideas with the Elkins Task Force may do so by writing this e-mail: Elkinstaskforce@jud.ca.gov.
I cited the Elkins case in my appeal brief, because Comm. violated its holding several times. I would think that if he sits on the Elkins task force, then he would at least know what the Elkins decisions said.
The Aug. 28 meeting of the Elkins task force told this story:
One parent who was present had been subjected to supervised visitation for 9 years, and when she finally got access to her FCS [Family Court Services] file, she discovered the psychologist in her case had incorrectly believed this parent had been arrested. The psychologist wrote her a letter, apologizing for her mistake -- but she'd already missed her child's life. She needed the information a lot earlier. ...At my trial, Comm. Joseph was adamant that my attorney and my expert witness could not have access to the CPS report written against me. He is still on the warpath against me for sharing that report, and wants to hold me in contempt of court.
We support the opposite approach: Just as Justice George said in Elkins that the regular rules of evidence apply to family court, so do the rules of civil procedure and discovery. The idea that attorneys and parents cannot have copies of the most important piece of evidence in the case results in wholesale denial of due process of law, as people cannot prepare their case. They cannot send copies of the report to their own experts for counter opinions, thus weighting the trial in favor of adopting the recommendation regardless of its merits or demerits.
The task force also said:
We strongly request a rule giving litigants permission to taperecord hearings. Particularly in counties, like Santa Clara, where court reporters are used instead of any type of recording, the transcripts are so often full of inaccuracies that it greatly decreases respect for the court system. Particularly when key phrases are omitted, for example, this gives an extremely bad impression to the litigants, and without a recording, there is no realistic way to have the transcript corrected.The Santa Cruz County transcripts are also filled with errors. It would be better if everyone recorded every hearing.
I wonder whether Comm. Joseph was even awake during the recent Elkins Task Force meeting. He was not persuaded by my arguments in his court last January, but he should have taken notice when his fellow judges and lawyers on the task force all say the same thing.
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