Written by National Association of Women Judges|April 27, 2017|News
On April 27, 2017, the San Diego County Superior Court presented its Second Biennial Court-Clergy Conference, with the theme “Building Community Through Justice.” Approximately 100 clergy members attended and 23 San Diego Superior Court judges participated, either as speakers or lunchtime table discussion leaders.
Conference Chair, Honorable Laura Halgren, a longtime NAWJ member, welcomed the participants, who then had the opportunity to attend two plenary sessions and two breakout sessions during the day. Speakers included NAWJ members Judges Laura Birkmeyer, Desiree Bruce-Lyle, Carolyn Caietti, Cindy Davis, Patricia Guerrero, Tamila Ipema, Julia Kelety, and Lisa Rodriguez, as well as several other judges from the San Diego County Superior Court.
A wide variety of faiths were represented, including clergy from the Baha’i Faith, Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Islam, Jewish, Protestant, Unitarian Universalist and other religions. The response from the attendees was enthusiastic, with 97 percent rating the conference “very useful” or “useful” to their work as a religious leader. The clergy greatly appreciated the opportunity to learn about the justice system and to visit with judges throughout the day. Additional judges joined the speakers during lunchtime, sitting at tables throughout the room to answer questions and hear from the clergy members about their experiences with the courts. Twenty judges participated in this segment. The lunch hour was quite lively, generating a lot of energy from the conversations.
The goal of the conference is to reach out to clergy members who are called upon to minister to parishioners in times of legal crises. These troubles could be caused by marital discord, domestic violence, aging, immigration issues, crime, addiction, or child abuse and neglect. For example, when a parishioner has concerns about a child who has been arrested, or fears an elder is unable to care for him or herself, or has been a victim of domestic violence, the clergy member often has no idea of what to do or what will happen. If the clergy could leave the conference feeling better equipped to assist and support the members of their faith community and also come away with ideas of how they could work together with the courts to improve justice in our community, this effort would be worthwhile.
The focus of the day was on “nuts and bolts.” Fourteen judges from San Diego Superior Court presented on their area of expertise and provided information on ways the self-represented can seek assistance via court websites, clinics, interpreters and legal aid programs. The topics included a court overview by Presiding Judge Jeffrey Barton, and five breakout sessions entitled Children in Crisis, Families in Crisis, Criminal Justice, Consumers in Crisis and Immigration/Human Trafficking. In addition, the general counsel from the Los Angeles Archdiocese and a local rabbi spoke on the tension between mandatory reporting requirements for clergy and confidentiality and privilege concerns.
Outreach to clergy has a two-fold benefit, explained Judge Halgren. “In addition to helping clergy in their ministry, it allows for better communication to the community at large. If 100 clergy members take the information learned and pass it on to 100 of their congregants, then 10,000 persons will better understand our courts and can more easily participate in the justice system.”