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Family Law – Elkins Task Force

Elkins Task Force: What is it and why is it significant?

 What is the significance of the Elkins case?

In 2007 a divorce case was brought to ContraCostaCounty’s Superior Court in California. Mrs. Elkins was represented by an attorney while Mr. Elkins was not; It is not uncommon for one or both parties in a family law matter to be unrepresented, especially given today’s economic climate. Unfortunately for Mr. Elkins not having been trained as an attorney, he suffered somewhat of a prejudice. The issue came about when both parties were directed to file lists of exhibits for the impending trial, unfortunately Mr. Elkins failed to comply with the local rules of Contra Costa County, and therefore was only allowed to have two of his exhibits admitted and also he was barred from presenting testimony on his own behalf; s a result Mrs. Elkins prevailed on many of the issues brought before the court.

Following the Superior Court proceedings Mr. Elkins appealed, and his case was ultimately brought before the California Supreme Court. The conclusion reached by the Supreme Court was that Mr. Elkins suffered a prejudice because of the local rules in ContraCostaCounty, most notably that he was not allowed to testify on his own behalf and was unable to submit many of his exhibits. The Court grappled with this issue and found that this treatment of Mr. Elkins, and likely other self-represented litigants could potentially create a lack of trust in the legal system.

            SEE: Elkins v. Superior Court (2007) 41 Cal.4th 1337

What was the result?

Based on the California Supreme Court’s holding, in July 2010, the Elkins Family Law Implementation Task Force was created to assist in the implementation of advice and recommendations from the Elkins Family Law Task Force. After conducting a comprehensive review by speaking to litigants, attorneys, judicial officers, and court staff several recommendations were made, some of which include:

            • Ensuring justice, fairness, and due process in family law;

            • Ensuring meaningful access for all litigants;

            • Using innovative techniques to promote effectiveness and efficiency;

            • Improving the status of, and respect for, family law litigants and the family law process;

            • Securing adequate resources, including existing, reallocated, and new resources.

Though todays economic climate has had an impact on implementing some of the recommendations made, the task force has been successful in making many changes in order to achieve their goals. They continue to focus efforts on assisting with the further implementation of their previous recommendations.

For a more detailed description of the various recommendations see the final report of the council which can be accessed at http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/elkins-finalreport.pdf

Contact Scales of Justice, LLP to discuss your family law case.

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