Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, delivering her annual State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature on Tuesday, outlined a broad range of social justice “challenges” that she said her branch must address.
“We must ensure that income inequality does not translate into a two-tier justice system,” Cantil-Sakauye said in prepared remarks that were made public before she addressed a joint legislative session in Sacramento. California Gov. Gavin Newsom was in attendance.
“We must ensure that fines and fees no longer fall on those least able to afford them,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “We must ensure that minor traffic offenses do not turn poor drivers into poor criminals; and we must ensure that our workplaces are safe from discrimination and harassment and that we treat each other and the public we serve with respect.”
Cantil-Sakauye’s reference to courthouse harassment follows the disclosure last summer that courts paid more than $645,000 to settle sexual harassment and gender discrimination claims filed against judges between 2012 and 2018.
Two jurists also currently face disciplinary proceedings over allegations of sexual harassment. The chief justice appointed a group of judges and attorneys to make recommendations later this year for handling harassment complaints against judges and court executives.
“In my view the civil rights work that began in the ’50s remains unfinished,” Cantil-Sakauye said in her prepared remarks to lawmakers, who saw three of their own colleagues resign last year amid harassment allegations. “We are reminded daily of this with movements such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and Time’s Up.”
Cantil-Sakauye made headlines late last year when she acknowledged that she had switched her political party registration from Republican to no-party preference in the wake of the divisive confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Her speech Tuesday, which touched on issues ranging from increased services for non-English speakers in court to the need for a “fairer and safer” pretrial detention system, was likely to play well with the large Democratic majorities in both legislative houses.
The chief justice noted former Gov. Jerry Brown’s flurry of 200 judicial appointments in his final year in office. Forty-one percent of those new jurists identify as non-white, and more than half are women, she said.
“The judiciary is now more representative of the local communities we serve in every way,” Cantil-Sakauye said.