California Chief Justice Vows Courts Will Join Fight on Homelessness

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California’s courts must be a part of statewide efforts to address its homelessness problem, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said Tuesday in her annual State of the Judiciary address to lawmakers.

Cantil-Sakauye announced she will appoint a workgroup to study how the courts can “become better partners” in tackling the issue, and report back to her later this year.

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye addresses lawmakers at her annual State of the Judiciary on March 10, 2020. (Penne Soltysik, Judicial Council of California)

“We will consider questions like how can courts become more proactive in addressing the homeless population situation in California? Are there rules and laws that need to be amended so we can better serve the population of homeless that come to our courts?” Cantil-Sakauye said.

She added that courts are “centers of social justice” that do more than resolve disputes, and judges often encounter people in their courtrooms experiencing situations that can trigger homelessness.

Cantil-Sakauye proposed that the courts help streamline housing matters or use their retired, temporary judges to help courts with homelessness issues. Courts can also turn over their surplus properties to the state to be used for housing.

“We have become more than a place that resolves disputes. We have become centers for social justice,” she said, touting the judiciary’s collaborative successes on several poverty-related initiatives, including abolishing cash bail, expanding access to interpreters’ services, and providing free lawyers to impoverished families in the child welfare system.

“In recent years, all three branches have recognized that racial and income inequality often create barriers to justice and affect the democracy that each of us experiences,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “We have the highest poverty level in the nation and more than one half of the nation’s population of homeless people. But in the nation-state of California, we work together to address these issues, to identify and reform systems of inequity.”

The chief devoted the better part of her address eulogizing Justice Ming Chin, her state Supreme Court colleague who recently announced he will retire in August.

“He is a person of tremendous intellect, gained not only from books and degrees, but also from hands-on hard work and experience,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “Justice Chin possesses a rich wisdom and an irreverent wit.”

She said she knew Chin before she met him, recalling a 1996 opinion he wrote in People v. Humphrey, where an abused woman’s mental state in killing her boyfriend was recognized as a defense in her criminal case.

That landmark ruling, she said, heavily influenced her tenure as a trial court judge presiding over Sacramento Superior Court’s first domestic violence court.

“Justice Chin’s decision recognizing battered women’s syndrome was groundbreaking,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “It finally allowed us to understand the pathology of domestic violence and its effect on women, children, families and future generations. It changed the legal landscape forever. It allowed us a window, a terrifying window, of the terror of the life of a victim.

“So, thank you, Justice Chin, for your public service and your visionary leadership,” she continued. “Because I believe you demonstrate that when we are open minded, when we deliberate fairly, and when we come together for necessary changes, we can preserve and create and expand justice for all in California.”

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye poses with female lawmakers at her annual State of the Judiciary speech on March 10, 2020. (Penne Soltysik, Judicial Council of California)
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