In 2005, self-represented Contra Costa county resident, Jeffrey Elkins, was barred by local rules from testifying in his own divorce case. The rule was supposed to expedite hearings by keeping lengthy testimony out of the Court room. The result was a crushing judgment which left Elkins with virtually nothing.
Elkins appealed the decision, and in the landmark 2007 Elkins v. Superior Court (Elkins) (2007) case, Chief Justice Ronald George lambasted the Contra Costa local rules, and by extension, the California Family Court system as a whole:
“[Judges] must abide by the guiding principle of deciding cases on their merits rather than on procedural deficiencies. Such decisions must be made in an atmosphere of substantial justice…The strong public policy favoring disposition on the merits outweighs the competing policy favoring judicial efficiency.”
The result was the Elkins Family Law Task Force, appointed in May 2008 to conduct a full review of family law proceedings. The Task Force concluded work on April 23, 2010, presenting a 113 page report containing 21 main recommendations and 117 specific recommendations to the Judicial Council of California calling for sweeping changes to the system.
“California’s family courts are struggling with enormous caseloads, complex legal issues, and increasing numbers of self-represented litigants,” Judicial Council chair Chief Justice Ronald M. George stated. “I am pleased that the Elkins Family Law Task Force has developed comprehensive
recommendations to provide greater access to justice, improve processes and procedures, and address the critical resource needs of these important courts.”
The entire report can be found here.