A View from Department Two

Hon. Thomas Trent Lewis

For me, there is a very special significance attached to this opportunity to serve the court and the public as Supervising Judge for the Family Law Division. For my entire professional career, now approaching forty years, I have participated in family law. To borrow from the song, I've looked at Department Two from both sides now.

In taking on this great responsibility, I travel the back hallway to chambers and go by the pictures of the many who have come before me in leadership. Seeing these photos in the hallway reminds me of the tremendous talent, judgment, and insight of those who have served as our supervising judges. It is humbling when I consider the diverse and strong leaders we have had over the years. While much progress has been made, there is still much work to be done to advance the interests of our family law community in our ever evolving and growing community.

The needs of the court and its resources have evolved over the past four decades so that we are reaching out to a larger and more diverse population where the majority of the participants are self-represented. The mega-trends over the past several decades have taken us from an entirely master-calendar system, to a home court system, to a modified trial system, to some differential case management. How will we invent the future?

My theme for the Family Law Division is the following:.

Innovate for Excellence

Maintaining a focus and vision for launching practical and efficient changes for improving the administration of justice for all. Exercising the wisdom to consider all rational and principled options. Showing the courage to promote both unity within the bench while maintaining individuality for each bench officer in each district.

In practical terms the exciting challenges ahead are:

1. The Launch of a New Era of Technology

Certainly every judge has a computer on his or her bench; and most practitioners use some form of electronic platform to communicate and deliver documents. If nothing else we calculate guideline child support by electronic means.

By May 2017, we are targeted to launch an electronic docket and electronic storage of the family law pleadings. This transition will involve adapting the manner in which cases are docketed and heard. In launching the new technology the court has assembled a great team of technology experts; and every effort is being made to adapt the technology to the needs of the family law department. Of course, we must anticipate that every transition involves growing pains, requiring patience, but hopefully we can minimize these bumps in the road. As it stands, we should launch into e-filing by Fall 2017. There is an established standing committee for technology; and I will seek the Bar's input on preparing, launching, and making this important change. For those who know me, I am an avid gadget guy who started aggressively adopting technology over the past three decades. For this reason, I'm very excited about these new changes.

2. Refinement of differential case management of our cases

The procedures from the time of trial setting to the time of trial are working efficiently. Thanks to the efforts of all concerned we can set trials efficiently in the Central District. There is some room for improvement in assuring that cases are both truly and timely ready. Our regular RFO calendars are still burgeoning throughout the county. Delay hurts families and children; and lack of readiness by the parties and counsel puts unnecessary strain on the court. By refining our differential case management, we can establish an abiding culture of continuity in our various departments. My hope is we can assign trial ready cases back to the home court for trial. We are going to implement more uniform case management tools to be sure cases are really ready. And for those who think delay will become their ally, think again, because the performance deadlines will be specific, robust, and enforced.

3. Work flow affects work load

We are refining the way we set our RFO calendars; the court is launching tools to streamline the caseload in the departments and avoid over crowded calendars. Of course, a less crowded calendar on a daily basis increases the time between setting and hearing. Parties and counsel should schedule their hearing far enough out on the court's docket so if the participants need discovery or time to prepare, they can complete this effort before the hearing, not at the hearing. The changes in the law in Family Code Section 217 expanding the frequency of evidentiary hearings, and Family Code Section 218 permitting post-judgment discovery bring heavier demands for the court. The clerk's office will accommodate your request for setting your RFO far enough into the future so that you can do the necessary discovery without continual continuances.  Ex parte applications for an early setting are not the solution and such requests remain subject to the rules concerning exigent circumstances.

4. More resources will improve the court's delivery of services

This year we will launch a complex department specializing in high conflict cases. We will also launch another long cause trial/hearing department. These new departments are targeted for launch in Fall 2017 depending on the availability of the resources of both space and available bench officers. We need to find more efficient ways to conduct long cause hearings in the various courts. I know this is a problem for both the bench and the bar. We are looking for ways to streamline and assign these hearings in the home court if feasible.

5. An Open Door Policy

I am open to hearing your suggestions and ideas for improving the department through a series of meetings which will be held throughout the county and organized by local bar associations so we can address the needs of the Family Law Division in all the district courts from Long Beach to Lancaster; from Pomona to Chatsworth; from Torrance to Santa Monica. This one court policy will help facilitate continuity of outcomes and resources for each court and every member of the public. That being said, if you bring up a problem, I would like to hear your proposed solution. It's easy to complain, it takes effort to propose solutions. And all ideas are welcome; it's just that some ideas are better and feasible.

My hope is that through calm, non-dogmatic, innovative thinking we will improve the family law division. Much has been accomplished over the years, but more can be done. I will need your help in making this journey successful. Thank you for the opportunity to serve as Supervising Judge for the Family Law Division.


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