Los Angeles County, CA March 7, 2000 Election
Smart Voter

Issues Facing the Courts Today

By John Ladner

Candidate for Judge of the Municipal Court; Los Angeles Judicial District, Office No. 1

This information is provided by the candidate
Discussion of some important issues.
The most important issues facing local courts, in my view, emanate from the court's primary mission--to secure justice for all.

Justice is an empty promise if an individual or group is denied attainable and equal access to the courts. Economic, cultural, social and racial barriers to the court unfortunately still exist. In our increasingly complex society the rising expense of litigation and the escalating consequences for criminal behavior require we find constructive ways through which every individual, regardless of their life and economic circumstances, is able to have their day in court. When an individual's or a segment of society's ability to utilize the court is impaired, their alienation and exclusion adversely affect society as a whole.

Justice should be inseparable from fairness. Studies report a perception of unfairness in the court system. Each jurist and the court as a whole must remain vigilant that fairness is the court's hallmark and is so perceived by the individuals and the community it serves. To address this issue the court must reinforce policies and procedures designed to assure equal treatment of the strong and the weak, powerful and powerless, privileged and disadvantaged, majority and minority. By example and through education and training, judges must instill in themseles and court personnel the importance of treating each individual fairly no matter what their particular circumstances and background or unique characteristics may be.

Another important issue facing the court today is the increasing criminalization of social problems. As certain political trends, growing populations and fiscal pressures curtail the availability of adequate traditional social services, an ever-increasing number of those most in need of them end up in the criminal justice system. While the criminal courts are a vital force in controlling anti-social behavior and isolating dangerous individuals, the human impact of diminishing social services should not simply stimulate the court to enlarge its capacity to punish, incarcerate and exclude. For example, the court can participate in the development of alternative responses to the plight of the homeless and mentally ill. A related issue facing the court is the growing trend to utilize the courts as a surrogate for weakened social institutions. Personal and community problems once addressed by family, church, school and community resources without resorting to court intervention for successful resolution appear more and more frequently in civil and criminal courts.

Reform of the jury system is an ongoing issue within the courts. Refining the jury system to assure that jurors are representative of our diverse community and assuring that there are sufficient jurors on a daily basis without needless inconvenience are but two goals.

Preservation of, and respect for, judicial independence; the dangers of politicalization of the judiciary; and fostering an understanding that the courts comprise a third branch of government are all important issues facing the court today and vital concerns as we strive to assure a just society.

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