01 Jan Bench and Bar Relations – A Year in Review
Bench and Bar Relations – A Year in Review
By Ian L. Elsenheimer
January 1, 2021
Each year, the Santa Barbara County Bar Association (SBCBA) and the Santa Barbara Superior Court jointly hold four Bench and Bar Meetings. These quarterly meetings provide members of our local legal community with an opportunity to engage in an informal dialogue with the Presiding Judge over a variety of legal and logistical issues.
This Article will briefly describe the format of these Bench and Bar Meetings and will provide readers with a summary of the meetings that occurred in 2020.
Form of Meetings
Prior to each Bench and Bar Meeting, the Bar Association solicits questions and discussion topics from the Santa Barbara legal community via the Santa Barbara Lawyer Magazine and SBCBA’s e-newsletter. Members of the community that have relevant questions, concerns or comments are encouraged to submit those items ahead of time to SBCBA’s Bench and Bar Relations Committee Chair.
At each meeting, the Presiding Judge begins by providing attendees with a general update on changes to the Court’s facilities, procedures, staffing, etc. Next, the Presiding Judge addresses questions and concerns that are submitted to the Bar Association and/or Court in advance. Lastly, the Presiding Judge invites attendees to participate in a round table discussion of any other outstanding issues.
If necessary, the Presiding Judge and/or Bench and Bar Relations Committee Chair will follow up on issues raised at these meetings and report back to the interested parties with the requested information.
In the past, these meetings have taken place at the Santa Barbara Court Video Conference Room in the Figueroa Division of the Santa Barbara Courthouse. However, the last three Bench and Bar Meetings of 2020 took place over Zoom as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It remains unclear whether these meetings will revert back to in person meetings, or continue to take place electronically, after the restrictions on in person meetings are relaxed.
Last year we were fortunate to have the Honorable Michael J. Carrozzo serve as our Presiding Judge. Judge Carrozzo and his team adeptly handled the Bench and Bar Meetings that took place on February 20th, May 21st August 27th and November 19th. Below is a short summary of each of these meetings:
February 20, 2020
At the first Bench and Bar Meeting of 2020, Presiding Judge Michael Carrozzo began by explaining the judicial re-assignments that were made in order to assist with the MS-13 trials taking place in the Santa Maria Division of the Santa Barbara Superior Court. Judge Carrozzo and the meeting’s attendees then discussed: (1) the Court’s willingness to continue to allow deposition transcripts that utilize the “Southern California stipulation” to be used at trial; and (2) concerns of family law practitioners regarding child abuse in family law cases. The Court is still looking into both of these issues.
May 21, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Newsom’s March 19, 2020 “Stay at Home Order” and temporary closure of the Courts caused the legal community to submit an exceedingly large number of questions and concerns to the Court and Bar Association prior to the May 21, 2020 Bench and Bar Meeting. As a result of the foregoing, the Court replaced the May 21, 2020 Bench and Bar Meeting with a Zoom based “Town Hall Meeting” where members of the Court addressed approximately 35 questions submitted by the public. A copy of the questions submitted, and the Court’s responses thereto, can be found at the following web address: https://www.sbcourts.org/gi/notices/C19_Townhall052120.pdf.
August 27, 2020
At the August 27, 2020 Bench and Bar Meeting, Presiding Judge Michael Carrozzo and the Honorable Judge Thomas Anderle answered a question about the applicability of Evidence Code section 1152 provision in family law proceedings and discussed logistical issues related to the setting and holding of jury trials during the Court’s suspended in-person services.
November 19, 2020
No questions or concerns were submitted to either the Court or the Bar Association prior to the November 19, 2020 Bench and Bar Meeting. Accordingly, Presiding Judge Michael Carrozzo and Mr. Darrel E. Parker, the Court’s Executive Officer, used this meeting as an opportunity to provide attendees with an update on the status of the Court’s operations given the status of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Judge Carrozzo and Mr. Parker informed attendees of the following:
- The Court is not expecting to further reduce operations as result of Santa Barbara County being placed into the “purple tier” under Governor Newsom’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” re-opening plan;
- The Court is implementing furlough days for certain staff members in response to state budget cuts (although some critical staff will still be present on these furlough days to process emergency items like temporary restraining orders);
- The Court and the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County are working to implement an outdoor Legal Resource Center, which will offer assistance to self-represented litigants;
- The Court and the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County are working to implement a space for low-income self-represented litigants to utilize an electronic device for purposes of appearing at Court proceedings via Zoom; and
- Jury trials are slowly happening in both the civil and criminal context, but the Court is requesting that litigants utilize bench trials if possible.
The Bench and Bar Meetings provide the Santa Barbra legal community with an invaluable opportunity to informally voice concerns to, and ask questions of, our Presiding Judge.
Although this year was wrought with challenges brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic, both our legal community and the Court rose to the occasion. To that end, the Bench and Bar Relations Committee would like to thank Presiding Judge Michael Carrozzo, his fellow Bench Officers and all Court personnel for their hard-work and dedication in 2020. We greatly appreciate their responsiveness, approachability, and genuine interest in solving the problems that our community members brought to the Court’s attention.
We look forward to seeing everyone at future Bench and Bar Meetings!