More judges, but less access at SLO County courts

Stew Jenkins


Six times in the Declaration of Independence Congress said that denial of access to independent, honest and opened courts was cause to sever ties with England.

An independent honest judiciary is the lynchpin holding our democratic-republic together. Without effective access to courts, people who have been wronged turn to vigilante self-help “justice.” Improvident and short-sighted administration by judges in San Luis Obispo County has chipped away at citizens’ practical access to justice.

Other county offices are opened 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The gateways to the court, the clerk windows, don’t open till 8:30 am and closes at 4 pm. Working folk have impaired access.

Five open clerk’s counters used to serve litigants with civil, small claims, probate, family law, and juvenile cases. Now there is generally only one opened window.

When other county offices have opened phones five days each week, the San Luis Obispo’s Superior Courts restricts the days and times for the public or their lawyers to phone court clerks, family court services (mediation), and probate investigators. The Court’s website doesn’t even keep up with the times or days when phone access is closed down.

All citizens, members of the press, lawyers, witnesses, and jurors face these physical barriers to justice.

When banks are opened from 8 or 9 a.m. till 6 or 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and even for significant hours on Saturday, with opened doors and opened phones; shouldn’t the public’s halls of justice be as freely available? When requiring lawyers to file electronically is saving the courts bushel-bails of money, shouldn’t the public have more access, not less to open doors and open phones?

This is not a question of judicial integrity. It is one of improvident and short-sighted administration critical to whether citizens have access to courts, to counsel and to justice. These are the very reasons the people of California have reserved the right in our Constitution to directly elect Superior Court judges, instead of leaving the selection of judges to governors, to other sitting judges or to bar associations.

Grand juries have been hobbled by the local judiciary. A new per-document fee, reminiscent of “the Stamp Act” has been imposed by local judges as a financial barrier to middle-income residents getting legal help or justice.

As we approach the June 2018 election of Superior Court judges, think about the benefit of bringing on new Judges not selected by the governor, the bar, or the other judges. Vote for candidates who pledge to roll back careless administrative barriers to justice.

Stew Jenkins  is a San Luis Obispo public interest lawyer who handles municipal law, open government cases, 1st Amendment cases, estate planning and family law. Jenkins has advised on and handled initiative/referendum, FPPC and other election matters. Jenkins supports rights to equal justice, to organize unions, to project labor agreements, to health care and to equal dignity.

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2 Comments about “More judges, but less access at SLO County courts”

  1. Sulla says:

    Alexander Hamilton once said (at the New York State convention to ratify the Constitution) that all governments, no matter how despotic, rest upon public opinion. As the local judges cut their ties with the people, they undermine the basis of their authority.

  2. CYA says:

    In total agreement, as the current Judges have all been appointed by 1 person the Governor I find that not only horrible but distasteful, as the current appointed Judge are suppose to be NONE partisan ?

    They are not they are hand picked by one person the Governor, then they think they can run amok as they have been doing for many years. First NOT one of the Judges are above the Law nor are they very friendly when seen in public or in chambers. Most live the county club style and life or join the country club to socialize as if they are the elite like Judge Coates and others.

    The arrogance of these judges, is nothing but rude, egos running high and not allowing the people to access justice only the rich and their buddies, this is NOT equal access to Justice.

    I hope the people vote in a real Judge and not some appointed one or a commissioner who said when he lost the DA’s race that he would never ever run for a political office ? so he lied and betrayed the people again so Tim Covello who was “Hired” by the current Judges not allowed to advertise to all who are qualified many here locally. Leaving no one to apply as Mr. Covello said in a recorded talk ” I got a call from the Judge Tangeman on behalf of all the judges on the bench would he accept the job as commissioner .

    So here we go again gets hand picked so this June-5-2018 we have a choice to finally let the people vote and pick a Judge. We also have the chance to pick a new District Attorney, New Sheriff and more so people check all the candidates and vote.

    Change is coming and I’m voting for JudgeMike Cummins for DA, Gregory Clayton for Sheriff and Illan Funke-Bilu for Judge.

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