In September, Jon Streeter was sworn in as the 87th president of The State Bar of California with a pledge to fight for court funding, "the most consequential issue of our time."
"I cannot overstate the gravity of this issue," Streeter said in his inaugural speech following his swearing-in by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye at the State Bar's Annual Meeting. "The quality of our justice system is being eroded, and once a phenomenon like this starts, it is hard to say where it will end."
A partner at Keker & Van Nest in San Francisco who specializes in complex litigation, Streeter, 54, succeeds Bill Hebert as president for a one-year term.
With his wife, mother, two daughters, two brothers and other family members in the audience, the new president said the bar will be a leader in finding a solution to inadequate funding of the courts. "The bar has your back," he told the chief justice. Ultimately, he added, he supports a constitutional ballot initiative "designed to fundamentally change how the justice system is funded" although shorter term solutions also are needed.
"Sometimes it takes a crisis to galvanize the forces of change, and I believe this is one of those times," he said, noting that the scope and magnitude of the cuts are greater than ever experienced and will be felt "where the public will feel it the most" - in the trial courts.
"The lives and physical safety of citizens are at stake all day every day in some of the court departments that are most vulnerable to closure," he said. "Talk to any judge who has sat in a family law department. If we turn the courts into a dull and unresponsive instrument when dealing with the most difficult of human problems, we make our civilization meaner and more brutal."
He warned that with severe underfunding of the courts comes the possibility of returning to an era in which the quality of justice is based on a person's ability to pay, noting that the wealthy can always buy private justice, such as that provided by private judges.
Mr. Streeter also warned that the bar and judicial branch must speak with one voice in seeking adequate funding for the courts. "Our message will not be effective if judges for whom we carry this message are perceived as divided," he said.
A statewide steering committee has been formed of influential lawyers from throughout the state that will draw up a set of proposals to address the need for stable, sufficient funding for the courts, both for the short and long term.
A graduate of Stanford University and UC Berkeley School of Law,Mr. Streeter promised to lead the bar in its efforts to reverse the current funding cuts. "We cannot stand idly by and see the vision of uniform justice for all Californians destroyed," he said.