Stanislaus County Family Law Trial Update

Stanislaus County family law cases continue to move along very slowly. This is due to a combination of factors.

Under our system, when a Petition is filed and a new case is opened, the Superior Court clerk schedules a Case Management Conference for about six months away, for the purpose of having the Court check on the status of the case. Even before Covid-19, typically if the case had not settled, the Court would have at least two Case Management Conferences, usually about four months away, before then assigning a trial date. The trial date would be many months away. So there was a built-in delay in the entire procedure. And that was BEFORE Covid-19.

The procedures are slower now. Case Management Conferences have, since March 16, been continued repeatedly by the various departments due to Covid-19.

I did an informal check on September 23. If and when the Court has its final Case Management Conference and decides to assign a case for trial, here are the earliest dates that the various family law departments were scheduling trials as of that date:

  1. Department 25 (Judge Westbrook) – March, 2021
  2. Department 11 (Judge Cassidy) – May, 2021
  3. Department 14 (Judge Jacobson) – September, 2021
  4. Department 13 (Judge Israels) – September, 2021

The setting will also depend on the time estimate for trial. The longer the time estimate, the further out a trial will be set.

What is the result of this delay? There is an ancient phrase, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” I was curious about the origin of this phrase, so I did a bit of research. The earliest known usage of this maxim is in an 1868 speech by British prime minister Willam E. Gladstone. That exact phrasing is quoted by Martin Luther King Jr. in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” This is more true than ever now.

The result is ongoing stress for family law litigants. All want to move on with their lives. The problem is that in Stanislaus County, that is not going to happen unless they settle their case.

So, in my cases, I have been recommending to all of my clients to keep this in mind. An early settlement may have risks (lack of discovery, etc.) but also rewards—having the case settled. Having that chapter in parties’ lives closed.

Private mediation is always an option as well. Bifurcation and early trial setting of key issues is also a consideration.

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