From The Editor
Bill Girdner
Story Date:   
Punishing the Public

     The courts are ultimately human institutions, based on conflict and resolution.
     They do not make cars, they do not cook hamburgers, they do not grow grapes or walnuts. They serve the people, as part of our democratic government.
     And the people need the courts for a great range of tasks, resolving civil disputes peacefully, deciding if someone has violated society's criminal rules and a variety of related and often mundane tasks that require a trip to the courthouse.
     So when courts cut back on service to the people, and in particular when they cut their public hours, they do damage to their reason for being, their raison d'etre.
     An article on our page last week reported on a big group of California courts, led by Santa Clara Superior Court in San Jose, that are cutting their public hours back to those kept by bankers for much of the last century.
     The cutbacks in public hours were announced a couple months after passage of a state budget that did not give the courts all the money they wanted.
     Closing at two or three o'clock in the afternoon, as those courts are doing, without doubt punishes the public.
     The common assumption would be that short hours are required by smaller budgets. But that assumption would be wrong.
     The remarkable thing about the story by CNS reporter Maria Dinzeo was that it showed the early closures have no fiscal justification -- they save no money. Because the court staff continues to work a full day.
     In that perversion of policy -- where the staff hours stay exactly the same and the public hours get sharply cut -- there is only one effect. The singular effect of the policy is to make it more of a hassle to deal with the court, to make it harder on those poor suckers standing in line.
     So why would a court do it.
     The stated reason is that it allows clerks to catch up with their work. But that justification does not stand up to reason or experience.
     The same number of documents are still filed, the same number of people still need to pay tickets.
     Indeed, in Sacramento, a court where the staff had fallen far behind in their work and are now caught up, the presiding judge said cutting public hours does not help. "You turn out at the same place," he said.
     In other words, there is no good reason to short the public on hours. So why?
     Since the clear and uncontested outcome of the policy is to make the public suffer. And since it is clear and uncontested that the policy will not save money.
     Then the only conclusion is that those courts shortening their public hours think it is OK to adopt a policy that has no benefit but does punish the public, after a budget disappointment.
     The other more benign interpretation is that they don't know what they're doing.
     To be fair to the staff and administrators, such a policy could not be put in place without the approval of their leading judges.
     It is they who should know better.
     Just as dark is contrasted by light, so the negative effects of shorting the public are clearly outlined by the positive effects of keeping full public hours.
     "It has one of the most immediate impacts on the public," said Winifred Younge Smith, Oakland's presiding judge. "It affects the public's ability to access justice and take care of their business."
     To the same effect, Robert Hight, the presiding judge in Sacramento, said, "Our belief is that you should have the counter hours as broad and as long as possible."
     Compounding the bad policy from the court in San Jose and a few others was the decision by the Judicial Council to not talk about it.
     At the council meeting last week, the early closures were set as an "information only" item, meaning they were not discussed or voted upon. And the council is the body that is supposed to advise on policy, precisely what was needed.
     I was surprised by that collective wave of dismissal. The chief justice had just named a big group of new judges to the council and appointed a new director to head the 800-member staff, formerly known as the Administrative Office of the Courts.
     But the refusal to discuss cuts in public hours -- decisions that punish the people of California without fiscal justification -- that sounded in every way like the council of old.
     Waving the issue away was in my mind a sign of both arrogance and deafness to the needs of the people. And there is nothing new in that.

Coyote Speaks
Robert Kahn
Story Date:   
Thanksgiving on the Rez

     I lived on the Tohono O'odham reservation for six years, teaching kids, and lived just off the rez teaching San Carlos Apaches for another year, so every year I write a Thanksgiving column for my good luck.
     Thank you, my Indian friends, for not asking the white people for identification. Maybe you should have.
     The O'odham and the Apaches were ancient enemies.
     The Apaches were raiders and the O'odham were farmers.
     They'd been fighting for centuries.
     So the first time the white men in blue coats showed up in O'odham land and asked the O'odham if they could help fight Apaches, the O'odham said, "Follow us."
     That was not even two centuries before I got there.
     Lots of things were starting to happen on the rez in my time. Drugs, mainly. It got pretty ugly pretty fast. I won't go into that because this story happened before then. Just barely before then. And I don't want to talk about bad things today. I want to tell you the funniest thing I ever heard on the rez.
     No one else saw the humor in it that Thanksgiving day, but I've always remembered it.
     My favorite student had invited me to Thanksgiving dinner at her house. It was a late-traditional house, with a dirt floor and walls made of adobe reinforced with cactus ribs. Saints stood on shelves in the corners. Chickens chased one another around the house, and on the back porch under the huato, dinner cooked in the open air.
     Little kids ran around chasing chickens and little dogs.
     Over it all my favorite student's mom reigned supreme, keeping everything in order, everything quiet. She had relatives in quite a few tribes, on both sides of the border. Spoke quite a few languages. I'll bet you couldn't find an anthropologist who spoke all the languages she did.
     We talked about this and that - mostly about my student's classmates.
     It was a small town. That's what people talk about in a small town.
     I found out that one of the few white kids on the rez, a student of mine, was dating So and So, an Indian girl.
     The white guy's father lived on the rez because he was a Protestant minister. Well, who else could his son ask for a date?
     So, as we talked about this and that, and the chickens chased one another across the floor, and Thanksgiving dinner cooked outside, my favorite student's mom pressed her lips together primly and said, "That's not right. A Protestant dating a Catholic girl."
     Happy Thanksgiving.

From The Courts
Milt Policzer
Story Date:   
Romantic Tales

     Here's an interesting factoid: Six states still recognize the common law tort of alienation of affection.
     It's too bad there aren't more, because the appellate rulings these laws can generate are so entertaining.
     Case in point from this month: Brent v. Mathis II, in which the Mississippi Supreme Court split 6-3 on the issue of whether children can sue for alienation of the affection of their mother.
     No, the children weren't suing each other. "Mom always liked you best!" was not the basis for the litigation.
     They were suing - actually their dad was suing on their behalf - because Mom had a brief affair with a doctor and Dad found out about it six months later and filed for divorce. Therefore, Mom no longer loved them.
     One-third of the Mississippi Supreme Court took this seriously enough to assert that "children, unjustly harmed by the diminution of familial affection, ought to have standing to bring alienation of affection claims against the party whose wrongful conduct proximately caused or contributed to the dissolution of the family."
     So Mom, filing on the kids' behalf too, could sue Dad for filing the divorce?
     Proximate cause is proximate cause.
     Or could the kids (ages 5 and 3 in this case) seek independent counsel to represent them against non-affectionate parents?
     Seems only fair.
     Read the dissent - there are some amazing precedents cited, including cases against parents-in-law and an employer who "recklessly" allowed a woman and a coworker to have an affair at work.
     We need more alienation of affection laws. This is way too much fun.
     By the way, check out footnote 7 of the dissent, where we learn that Mississippi has a law on its books saying that "a parent may bring an action for the seduction of a child, although such child be not living with nor in the service of the plaintiff, and though there be no loss of service ..."
     You can sue if they never call, they never write.
     More alienation: Now turn your attention to the New Hampshire Supreme Court and another father-child relationship.
     The ruling, also from this month, is In re G.B., in which a father appealed the termination of his parental rights just because he was in prison for hiring someone to murder his son's mother.
     I'm guessing he was hoping for presents on Father's Day.
     Some affection should be alienated.
     Quote of the week: From Bryant v. Bryant, a ruling of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals: "Although Wife conceded that she had used drugs with Husband on occasion, she said that this took place only when he brought drugs into the house."
     No point in wasting good drugs.
     Hip-hop love? It's not easy keeping up with modern lingo, but I think I understand this one.
     This is from a lawsuit filed last week against singer Keyshia Cole, who allegedly attacked a woman she ran into in her boyfriend's house: "(G)iven the fact that Mercadel's relationship with Williams was strictly plutonic, it was of no consequence to her who Williams was dating."
     It's not a typo - it says "plutonic" repeatedly in the suit.
     I'm pretty sure it means the relationship was out of this world.
     Not so sure I can explain that "who" though.
     I want to see this trial conducted entirely in rap.