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From the President

As we welcome 2014

By Luis J. Rodriguez
President, State Bar of California

Luis RodriguezAs we rush into 2014, we have our lists of New Year’s resolutions, optimism is high, and we remember the “ups and downs” of the past year. In the last few weeks, I had the opportunity to address two groups full of optimism and armed with a list of New Year’s resolutions. They were newly sworn-in judges and attorneys.

In early November, I was invited by Hon. David Wesley, presiding judge of Los Angeles County Superior Court, to address new judges. Listening to their moving personal stories, one could not help but be inspired by the challenges that they faced and the potential for justice that they brought to the court. One could imagine that each new judge had his or her list of “resolutions” that he or she would like to accomplish as a bench officer.

Soon thereafter, Hon. Manuel Ramirez, presiding justice of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, invited me to attend the swearing-in ceremony for newly admitted attorneys. In looking at their body language and smiles, it was obvious that these soon-to-be attorneys had nothing but positive feelings about their many accomplishments that resulted in becoming licensed.

These ceremonies were the “ups.” The honorees and guests were full of optimism, and everyone had mental notes of what he or she wanted to accomplish. Yet there is a major “down” which soon will become a reality for both groups — the reality of economics.

The judicial branch has not been living in an environment of prosperity; rather it has been placed in a reality of basic survival due to years of budgetary cuts. One can no longer expect a focus on expansion of services. Instead, the impact of the next closure looms. As for the new attorneys, they are graduating with debts hovering in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The reality of having a job prior to graduation is no longer an expectation, but a hope. These are the “downs” that these groups face. Actually, these are the downs that we all share.

The year 2014 will be one in which many of us through the State Bar, Bench-Bar Coalition, Open Courts Coalition and grass roots advocacy bring to light the need for better court funding. This will also be the year that the State Bar, through its newly formed Task Force on Civil Justice Strategies, will examine the unacceptable student debt problem. This will be a year that will start with optimism as we continue to deal head-on with very unpleasant and complex problems that affect the delivery of legal services. This will be a year full of “ups and downs.”

In the past, we have talked about justice in an almost theoretical manner, but necessity has brought us together to examine the theory. We have moved beyond the rhetoric, and we have started to work. But it’s important to remember that justice does not exist in a vacuum, so what affects our new attorneys will affect the court, and what affects the courts will affect all of us; and so it goes round and round.

Despite these “downs,” one resolution will be fulfilled this year: Many will try to do something to overcome these challenges. And with this effort, the year 2014 may just turn out to be a good year.