FINAL 2021 Annual Report
TABLE OF SAN BERNARDINO SUPERIOR COURT Annual Report
WELCOME TO THE 2021 ANNUAL REPORT
ANNUAL REPORT 2021
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ABOUT US MISSION & VISION MESSAGE THE PATH TO RESTORATION
4 5 6 8 9
Health and Safety Changes Budget Changes
10 11 12 13 14 16 18
COMMUNITY OUTREACH Operations Impacts Pandemic Backlog Filling Vacancies EXPANDED REMOTE ACCESS & STATISTICAL REPORT FY 2020-21 LOOKING BEYOND & ONWARD
ANNUAL REPORT 2021
As one of 58 trial courts in California, San Bernardino Superior Court (SBSC) serves the largest geographic county in the contiguous United States — reaching south of the San Bernardino Mountains to the Nevada border and the Colorado River. Larger than the state of Massachusetts and Vermont combined, San Bernardino County is 12% of California’s geographic area. If you move San Bernardino County to the Bay Area, it covers all or part of twenty-three counties. Encompassing 24 cities and 104 unincorporated communities, the court serves a population of 2,035,210. The court provides access in 13 court facilities throughout the county’s 20,105 square miles. The county’s demographics represent some unique characteristics according to the U.S. Census, including 14.3% below the federal poverty line, 26% percent of school-aged children, and 54.4% of Hispanic ethnicity. The American Community Survey published by the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that in 2015-2019 nearly 700,000 San Bernardino County residents were non-English speaking, with the majority represented between the ages of 18-64. San Bernardino’s judicial officers hear every case type under state law including civil, probate, mental health, family, juvenile dependency and delinquency, criminal, and traffic. A judge, and sometimes a jury, hears witness testimony and other evidence and decide cases by applying the relevant law to the relevant facts. Cases range from disputes between landlords and tenants to corporate lawsuits, guardianships to court- ordered treatment in a psychiatric hospital, and simple traffic infractions to homicide.
ANNUAL REPORT 2021
MISSION & VISION
SBSC’s mission is to preserve and protect rights and to effect fair resolutions of all disputes brought to the Court.
Expanded County-wide Access to Justice Increased Statewide Relationships
3. Efficient, Functioning and Accessible Case and Data Management 4. Well Trained, Committed Judicial Officers and Staff
• • •
Investing in the Court and the Community
Committing to Success
ANNUAL REPORT 2021
A MESSAGE FROM COURT LEADERSHIP
Reflecting on the State of the Court message from 2020, San Bernardino Superior Court (SBSC) was poised to leap into the new decade with ambitious plans to expand service and access through the enhanced use of technology and physical access to our more remote locations. On March 16, 2020, those plans were placed on hold as the court swiftly moved into the full effects of the COVID-19 pandemic while balancing access to justice during severe budget reductions. The 2021 calendar year was when the court learned to be experts and stewards of the many changes to health and safety, and Cal/OSHA regulations. The pandemic continued to impact our ability to provide in-person services and staff our courtrooms and offices adequately.
ANNUAL REPORT 2021
“Contact tracing,” public health, N95, KN95, social and physical distancing, plexiglass, and a host of uncommon words became as familiar as our daily legalese and, many times, challenged the core mission of the court to provide access to justice. The severe budget reductions imposed on our court, within a swift 90 days as the world experienced an economic shutdown, were as unprecedented as the pandemic. Court leaders worked hard to stay within our guidelines of ensuring our team’s health, safety, and well-being so they could take care of our community. One of many goals included the least impact to our employees, which meant limiting furlough days and avoiding lay-offs at the cost of holding vacant positions open. The long-term goal to preserve the institution and the quality of our staff was achieved, as was exhibited by the loyalty, passion, flexibility, and sheer willpower of all our judicial officers and staff. During the worst of the pandemic in 2021, our court continued to find creative ways to increase access to justice. Through a series of technology grants, the court implemented a variety of tools including live audio streaming, expanded remote mediation appointments for visitation and custody issues, remote settlement conferences, and other calendared matters in all case types, such as in Juvenile Dependency Court. On August 30, 2021, we began our first remote civil jury trial. Self-Help services continued through our remote platform Direct Access to Self-Help (DASH). We completed the final go-live of our new case management system and soft-launched a home-grown product for remote access to cases and court documents.
HONORABLE R. GLENN YABUNO Presiding Judge
NANCY CS EBERHARDT Court Executive Officer
ANNUAL REPORT 2021
PATH TO RESTORATION
SBSC is committed to protecting the health and safety of our community while performing essential services to the public. The health and safety of all our judicial officers, employees, court users, and justice partners is our driving force as we begin restoring and rethinking court services and post-pandemic impacts. During 2021, the court focused on restoring pre-pandemic service levels and addressing COVID-19 induced backlogs with a severely reduced workforce and COVID-19 restrictions in place.
SBSC reinstated most services in 2021 with safety measures in place, despite being severely underfunded and understaffed during Fiscal Year (FY) 2020-2021. Health and Safety Challenges
Vacancies, retirements, and the wave of workplace impacts related to COVID-19, impacted numerous services to all court users. With an improved budget outlook, SBSC is actively filling vacancies, and restoring public services to pre-pandemic levels, while addressing critical backlog. Operational Impacts After recovering from an $8 million funding reduction in FY 2020-21, California and the Judicial Branch are on the road to recovery with restoration of court funding and additional one-time funding in FY 2021-22, which began in July 2021. Budget Changes Remote access has become a permanent service delivery model for court users. SBSC continues to implement options such as an appointment scheduler for the Clerk’s Office, payment options, live-streaming proceedings, electronic document access, video- conferencing, and other remote services online. Remote Access
ANNUAL REPORT 2021
HEALTH & SAFETY CHALLENGES
Ensuring health and safety in the court during the pandemic has been a critically important issue to providing fundamental court services to the public. COVID-19 has required SBSC to act quickly and decisively to keep all court users, attorneys, judicial officers, and staff safe. In 2021, while enduring the third and fourth wave of COVID-19, SBSC endeavored to slow the spread of the virus while keeping a productive court environment. SBSC focused on increasing access to justice while balancing the on-going health and safety challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Physical distancing & capacity limits began to lift in 2021, increasing public services similar to pre-pandemic levels.
In early 2021, courts were designated as emergency services and vaccines became readily available to all judicial officers and staff.
In 2021, we saw two COVID variants of concern that impacted our community and the court greatly.
Court services were reduced, including phone hours, with a focus on online not in-line services.
Twenty-six emergency orders were executed in 2021 on limiting capacity, proceedings, jury trials, courthouse access, and masking.
COVID-19 continues to have an impact on staffing, including school closures that prevented employees from working.
ANNUAL REPORT 2021
Calendar year 2021 marked a new beginning in the path to funding restoration for SBSC. After experiencing $8 million in funding reductions in FY 2020-21, the court began to experience a better budget outlook in FY 2021-22, which began on July 1, 2021. This change was mostly attributed to vast improvements to the State of California’s revenue outlook, which saw improvements in personal income tax receipts –mostly due to capital gains – sales tax revenues, and support from the federal government. The trial court system in California is state-funded and the Judicial Branch saw a large change from the previous budget cycle where SBSC endured $8 million in funding reductions, coupled with the loss of additional new funding that had been proposed in January 2020 (pre- pandemic). Due to the restoration of funding and an additional ongoing and one-time funding specifically to address backlogs, SBSC improved its budget outlook growing from being funded at only 70% of its workload based need in FY 2020-21 to 76.8% in FY 2021-22. Adequate and stable funding is critical to providing continuity of court services and access to justice. In FY 2020-21, SBSC saw an $8 million funding reduction requiring the court to implement multiple cost reduction measures in a short period. These measures included freezing vacancies (which almost tripled the court’s pre- pandemic vacancy rate), implementing furloughs, reducing contracts, and limiting public hours at the clerk’s office. With 85% of the court’s expenditures being salaries and benefits, not hiring additional staffing impacted our ability to process filings. With the restoration of funding on July 1, 2021, the court is beginning to see a recovery, and SBSC has started filling vacancies, increasing public hours, and implementing other efficiencies to restore court services. Funding Reductions Responses & Impacts Although the budget was much more promising in FY 2020-21, legislative mandates including AB 1869 and AB 177, which repealed certain administrative fees, reduced local revenues by roughly $800,000, without the benefit of a state revenue backfill in FY 2021-22. Court staff worked with county partners to update 44,147 cases pursuant to AB 1869 and 346,807 cases pursuant to AB 177, resulting in the elimination of 17 fine/fee types owed. The budget outlook for FY 2022-23 is more promising and includes proposed revenue backfills to offset the local impacts, though sustained state funding is necessary. The public at large was impacted in many ways during the pandemic and the court paused referring cases to collections. In 2021, the court also processed its first discharge of accountability, which impacted 133,523 cases totalling $84.7 million dating back to cases from 2010. Statutory Changes & Court Debt In 2021, SBSC was awarded $634,677 in grant funding from the Judicial Council for two technology projects related to remote access: 1) a new public access portal and 2) audio-visual equipment for courtrooms. The Court Access Portal (CAP) was developed locally with initial programming shared by Santa Clara Superior Court for a replacement website to access electronic court case information online. Moving from a Tyler software product, which experienced instability, to an in-house solution allows the court to consistently and fluidly meet the needs of our organization and community of attorneys and the public while increasing system stability and performance. Utilization of Grants to Help Expand Remote Access
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COVID-19 Backlog Funding In FY 2021-22, California Courts received their portion of $60 million in one-time funding available through June 30, 2023. This funding is being provided to help relieve some of the pressure on courts overwhelmed by case backlogs. SBSC received approximately $6 million locally and used these funds for over 13,000 hours of overtime and nearly 8,100 hours of extra-help provided through returning retirees and short-term help through temporary employment agencies. Case filing backlog and backlog resulting from changing legislation are seeing improvements. The second project funded was for remote appearance equipment in courtrooms such as video equipment, sound equipment, etc. which supports extensive remote access to court proceedings on a permanent basis beyond the pandemic. Although grant funding allowed for the immediate purchase of technology, equipment, and on-going maintenance, upgrades and replacements will become an on-going localized expenditure to ensure court users have a choice to conduct their business remotely in the future.
COVID-19 caused a tidal wave of workplace impacts especially to services directly received by the public. The budget crisis put holds on filling existing vacancies, and the pandemic resulted in missed work due to quarantining, illness, and school closures. Altered court operations resulted in delayed processing as a result of court closures and staffing shortages. Remote access, though extremely positive, still posed a wide range of challenges and benefits for litigants, attorneys and court staff.
Altered operations and pandemic related absences increased SBSC’s case backlog. Using a strategic approach, with one-time backlog funding from the State, SBSC made great strides in reducing backlog by the end of 2021.
SBSC has been working diligently and carefully to fill existing vacancies within budget and also prioritizing those with the most impact operationally and for the public. This process was delayed due to continued COVID impacts and job market conditions.
Court users and attorneys leveraged remote technology to attend hearings, including through
Zoom, while also protecting themselves from exposure to COVID-19.
ANNUAL REPORT 2021
Pandemic Backlog In response to the continuing public safety challenges, SBSC temporarily adopted new rules and emergency orders to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As SBSC quickly transformed its operations to remain open and accessible, the pending workload courtwide rose to levels previously unseen. In 2021, the pandemic continued to challenge SBSC’s ability to ensure access to justice. Altered operations, delayed proceedings, and pandemic-related absences such as illness, quarantining, caring for loved ones, and school closures increased the pending workload levels. These unseen times, coupled with extreme budget reductions, resulted in a smaller workforce and a hiring freeze. Reducing the pending workload is essential, as is ensuring there is a sufficient workforce to incorporate process efficiencies with the restoration of funding seen in FY 2021-22 and new one-time backlog funding. The court coordinated and introduced comprehensive strategies to reduce and clear the pending workload. This plan includes hiring temporary staff and returning retirees, maximizing available resources and arranging overtime as funding allowed. The court operated with only an average of 79% of its workforce need throughout the year. A difficult feat made possible by the steadfast dedication of many staff and strategic judicial and executive leadership.
A six-month review of July and December of 2021 illustrates the impact of deployed strategies as pending workload levels decreased by an average of 49% compared to levels in the same time-period of 2020.
COVID BACKLOG OVERTIME HOURS Eighty-nine percent of the court’s overtime has been dedicated to the COVID backlog equating to 11,817 hours worked.
HOURS WORKED BY ADDITIONAL TEMPORARY HELP TO ADDRESS BACKLOG Nearly 8,100 hours worked by additional help, hired through temporary agencies and returning retirees, have been dedicated to address the COVID backlog.
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SBSC was hit hard, like many other courts, with vacancies and job market conditions including the Great Resignation, and an unprecedented number of judicial officers and employees leaving the workforce in 2021. As an already understaffed and most under-judged court in California, coupled with severe budget reductions and hiring freeze since FY 2020-21, SBSC was challenged with more than double the amount of vacancies experienced during pre- pandemic times. Other strategies include promoting a diverse workforce, culture and inclusivity, along with tele-work, alternative work schedules, and casual dress attire.
45 Legal Processing Assistant (LPA) positions are unfilled equating to an 11% percent vacancy rate which impacts how quickly we process filings.
15 Judicial Assistant (JA) positions are unfilled, equating to a 9% vacancy rate which impacts court hearings and trials.
-12% Court Reporters
11 Court Reporter positions are unfilled equating to a vacancy rate of 12% impacting the ability to take a record of court proceedings.
8 Interpreter positions are vacant equating to a 16% vacancy rate which impacts a court users’ ability to fully participate in court.
Workforce Capacity 79%
103 Promoted/ Transferred
5 Year Vacancy Rate by Fiscal Year
FY 21-22 mid
ANNUAL REPORT 2021
EXPANDED REMOTE ACCESS
& Community Engagement
As the pandemic continued through 2021, many in-person services, such as jury trials, were postponed and access to court facilities were limited. With a little bit of creativity and technology in place, SBSC was able to find ways to translate our court processes beyond our courthouse doors.
1ST REMOTE JURY TRIAL
On August 30, SBSC launched its first civil remote jury trial with Judge Gilbert Ochoa utilizing the Zoom platform, out of an abundance of caution due to COVID-19.
On March 15, SBSC relaunched audio streaming for the public, family members, and the media to preserve public access to court proceedings, due to physical distancing.
Remote appearances continued to benefit attorneys, the public and the court—especially during peaks of the third and fourth wave of the COVID-19.
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“T his is a good start in the right direction and I/ we look forward to collaborating to proactively bring about progressive change for this region ” - A nonymous T ownhall P articipant
DASH launched online in 2020 and has since gained 12,549 registered users, assisted with over 9,000 requests, 1,000 Live Chats, and was accessed from 19 countries. DASH assists roughly 40% of its users after normal business hours and on the weekend. DIRECT ACCESS TO SELF HELP (DASH)
In 2021, the court transitioned probate, child support, Lanterman- Petris-Short (LPS) and family law cases onto Odyssey. On June 28, Court Access Portal “CAP,” launched for public access to case information ONLINE CASE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
Remote townhalls were established in 2020 as a way to communicate to the public about eliminating bias. In 2021, we continued the discussions on mental health and homelessness with over 500 listening in collectively. In 2021, judges continued to do community outreach and partnered with local schools to conduct Mock Trials and teach lessons on civics.
online improving stability and performance for court users.
ANNUAL REPORT 2021
STATISTICAL REPORT FY 2020-21
This section contains essential information about court filings during July 2020 to June 2021. The information below represents a snapshot of filing data, trends in filings, and dispositions. SBSC implemented a variety of ways to continue to provide access to court services through modified service delivery models during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many case types have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels or are expected to see a rise in the future. CIVIL Civil cases generally involve private citizens or businesses bringing suit over money as a result of a contract, property, landlord/tenant, or other disputes. Limited Civil cases concern a sum of money that amounts to $25,000 or less. There were 22,780 limited civil filings in the court. Unlimited civil cases involve an amount of money that exceeds $25,000. Unlimited cases totaled 11,269. Unlawful Detainer cases consist of disputes between landlords and tenants over the possession of a unit and unpaid rent. Unlawful Detainer cases totaled 2,796. Small Claims cases are heard in a distinct civil court designed to allow litigants to resolve disputes quickly, inexpensively, and without the involvement of lawyers. Small Claims cases totaled 4,559. CRIMINAL & TRAFFIC Criminal cases involve charges filed by the state against one or more persons alleged to have committed criminal offenses. Felony cases are the most severe, as punishment could include death, imprisonment, or probation. Felony cases totaled 13,656. Misdemeanor cases concern the prosecution of less severe crimes for which the maximum punishment generally includes a $1,000 fine and a county jail term of one year or less. Non-traffic Misdemeanor cases totaled 24,229. Infraction cases are of the least severity and are punishable by fine only. Non-traffic Infractions totaled 2,372. Traffic-related offenses begin when a law enforcement officer cites an individual operating a motor vehicle for violating a provision of state law, most often the California Vehicle Code. Traffic offenses may be filed as infractions (punishable by fine only) or misdemeanors (punishable by a $1,000 fine and a county jail term of one year). Traffic cases totaled 136,541. FAMILY LAW & JUVENILE Family law actions are brought to resolve disputes between marital or domestic partners. Issues involved could include child custody, child support, divorce, domestic violence, legal separation, nullity, paternity, and spousal or domestic partner support. There were 23,654 family law cases filed. Juvenile Delinquency matters involve minors who are alleged to have committed a violation of a law or statute. There were 1,143 delinquency cases filed. Juvenile Dependency cases involve the protection of children that have been or are at risk of being abused, neglected, or abandoned. There were 3,279 Dependency cases filed. MENTAL HEALTH, APPEALS, AND PROBATE Mental Health filings pertain to the involuntary civil commitment of mentally ill persons due to severe emotional problems. There were 2,913 mental health cases filed. An appeal is filed when a party asks for a review of a decision to see if a legal mistake or error was made. There were 102 appellate division filings. Probate filings pertain to estate matters, conservatorships, and guardianships where the court is involved in the legal process of assets, appointed care or appointing someone to have custodial rights over another. There were 3,216 probate filings which included 1,072 filings for estates, 310 for trusts, 369 for conservatorships, and 533 for guardianships.
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Limited contract filings went up by 73% since FY 2016-2017.
Limited Enforcement of Judgment increased by 91% since FY 2019-2020
Unlimited Complex Litigation increased by 29% over the last three years.
Unlimited Civil filings increased by 10% since last fiscal year.
STATISTICAL TRENDS • Small Claims filings decreased by 48% since last fiscal year (2019-2020). • Limited Unlawful Detainer filings decreased by 62% since last fiscal year (2019-2020). • Non-traffic infraction and misdemeanor filings decreased by 22% since last fiscal year (2019-2020). • Total felony filings increased by 10% since last fiscal year (2019-2020). • Child Support filings decreased by 30% over the past five years (since FY 2016-2017). • Dissolution filings have increased by 10% since last fiscal year. • Total Delinquency petition filings have decreased by 43% since last fiscal year (2019-2020) and 63% over the previous five years (since FY 2016-2017). • Total Dependency filings have increased by 16% since last fiscal year (2019-2020). • Total Probate filings have increased by 35% since last fiscal year (2019-2020), with trust filings increasing by 82% over the last previous five years (since FY 2016-2017). • Estate filings have increased 48% since last fiscal year (2019-2020).
ANNUAL REPORT 2021
LOOKING ONWARD & BEYOND
The COVID-19 pandemic made it very evident that the judicial system is dramatically changing, including changes in how the court services the public, increasing demand for transparency and social justice, and greater expectations to access information easily and through remote means. SBSC has a number of initiatives on the horizon including advances in technology innovation for judges, attorneys, justice partners and the public; eliminating bias and fostering diversity; and implementing other legislative changes including alternative sentencing and cannabis conviction re-sentencing.
Phase I of CAP will launch in 2022 for electronic access to court information online.
A new technology tool for judges to use with up to date case data information, notes, etc.
Elimination of Bias Committees continues to work on training, receive input, & access.
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With the improvement in the budget for FY 2021-22, which began on July 1, 2021, SBSC’s theme became restoration. Restoration of staffing, programs, access, and our core competencies. Reflecting on the technology innovation, we have learned and implemented through the opportunities of multiple crisis points in 2021. We are poised to and have learned the value of technology to achieve wrap-around access for our geographically and demographically challenged community. Our greatest strength continues to be our staff, judges, justice partners, and commitment to providing access to justice during good and bad times. Our court community adapted well to numerous changes resulting from the pandemic and achieved great things through sheer determination, hard work, and commitment to serving the public.
D&I Committee The Diversity & Inclusion Committee fosters a culture of diversity to appreciate & value individual differences.
All 5,400 AB 1793 filings are expected to be processed & updated by June 2022. Cannabis Filings
Senate Bill 129 provided additional funding to expand pre-trial services in partnership with the county. Pre-trial Services
ANNUAL REPORT 2021
Julie Van Hook Communication and Public Affairs Officer COURTS-PIO@sb-court.org www.sb-court.org
Photos provided by: Chris Roman
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