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JUDGES CONTINUE TO LEAVE FAMILY LAW DEPARTMENTS

October 4, 2011

Part two in an ongoing series by David Kuroda on CHILD CUSTODY ISSUES: AVOIDING TRIAL, HELP FOR FAMILY LAW JUDICIAL OFFICERS RESPONSES TO ELKINS REFORMS AND THE ECONOMY

A troubling issue raised by the Los Angeles County Bar Association, Family Law Executive Committee, concerns family law bench officers. The exodus of well respected judges and commissioners out of family law continues. This past year, a number of experienced judicial officers have left the court; many of them will be available for private mediation and judging; others have sought assignments in civil courtrooms where the demands on them are less burdensome.

Last year Judge McCoy predicted the “unsustainable” situation for the courts because of the budget reductions, perhaps resulting in a reduction in the number of court employees by over 1800 in the next two and a half years. A loss of 35 percent of the staff. Fortunate the cuts was less severe and although there were losses, the situation wasn’t as grave as feared. Of the seven family court mediators who were laid off, two were rehired.

Besieged by heavy workloads and the emotional pressures of family law, many of our best judges are choosing early retirement, private judging and other assignments in the Superior Court. The number of experienced family law bench officers in the private sector is at an all-time high. Although the judges’ retirement system provides little incentive for judges to remain on the bench for prolonged periods, the attraction of private judging has led to the departure of many excellent judges long before usual retirement ages. Added uncertainty for the judges is the possibility that judges in Los Angeles County could have their yearly salaries reduced by over $50,000.

Last year, the Hon. Marjorie Steinberg, Supervising judge of the family law departments, feared the possible removal of family law courtrooms from most district courts and transferring them to a few “hubs” in the county. This didn’t happen, due in part to the advocacy of the bar associations and successful negotiations by the court leadership and Sacramento.

Some answers may lie in the greater use of methods to resolve cases, leaving only the most difficult cases for the courtroom.

Mr. Kuroda is the former Division Chief, Family Court Services, Superior Court of Los Angeles and directed the Mediation and Conciliation Service, the first and largest court mediation program in the nation. In his 18 years with the Superior Court.

In addition to directing the program, he has personally provided mediation services to over 8,000 families, and has made presentations on collaborative divorce, mediation and divorce to numerous groups of attorneys and mental health professionals. He is a member of A Better Divorce, LAWCDP, the LA Collaborative Family Law Association, and CDRC. He serves on the Family Law Executive Committee, LA County Bar Association. He was recognized by the National Association of Social Workers, NASW, California, with the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003; he was honored for his contributions to help establish Collaborative Divorce by Collaborative Practice California; in 2007 with the George Nickel Award, California Social Welfare Archives.

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