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California Supreme Court answers questions, hears cases at University of San Francisco

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Courtesy Shawn Calhoun/University of San Francisco
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The California Supreme Court justices stepped down from their dais during a special visit to the University of San Francisco campus Tuesday to educate the public about their branch of government.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said the justices, who also heard oral arguments in three cases while at USF, are committed to informing California communities about their courts during their statewide tour.

“We believe that the strength of our democracy depends upon the recognition of the separate but equal three branches of government,” she said. “Ninety-eight percent of cases are resolved at the state court level. We hope today’s session gives you a better understanding of the court system.”

The justices’ first day of a two-day stopover at the university included a question-and-answer session with high school and law students before they heard opening arguments on several cases.

The questions posed by students ranged from how the justices balance their personal lives with the demands of sitting on the state’s highest court to how the justices choose which cases to hear.

According to Associate Justice Ming W. Chin, the California Supreme Court has nearly 5,000 cases requesting review, but the justices hear only slightly more than ?1 percent of cases each year.

The process of picking which cases to hear is complex, Chin said. The high court often reviews cases of conflict, including marriage and Proposition 8 cases, as well as cases with automatic appeals, including death penalty cases.

“Most of the time we spend deciding what to decide,” Chin told the Balboa High School student who posed the question. “We meet every Wednesday when we’re not hearing oral arguments to review 150 to 300 cases.”

And like nearly all government agencies, funding is an issue in the court system, said Associate Justice Marvin R. Baxter. He said California courts need more money in order to properly provide justice to all citizens.

Over the past five fiscal years, Baxter said, dozens of courts throughout the state have closed, cut hours or implemented furlough days to make up the funding ?deficits.

“The time and cost involved in trying to operate court simply precluded access,” he said. “Our greatest challenge by far is to secure adequate funding to provide access to all Californians.”

The justices are scheduled to hear another three cases at the university today. The visit also coincides with the 100th anniversary of the USF School of Law. The school, located in the North of Panhandle neighborhood, is marking the occasion with a yearlong celebration.

Several justices will also travel to numerous high schools throughout the state over the next month to answer questions and raise awareness about the court system.

High Court hears medical marijuana dispensary ban case

The California Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday at the University of San Francisco in a case that seeks to clarify whether municipalities can ban medical marijuana.

The seven justices heard about the battle between the Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center and the city of Riverside, which banned all dispensaries, declaring them a “public nuisance.”

Jeffrey Dunn, an attorney representing Riverside, said cities have always had land-use and zoning authority, and therefore can ban such businesses.

“We have constitutional authority to enact an ordinance based on public safety and welfare,” he said. “There is no limit for us to regulate operations and establishments.”

But attorneys for the Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center said such a ban goes against state law, referring to the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which allows seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana, and the Medical Marijuana Program, which was created in 2004 to enhance access to the drug.

“They’re doing what the law allows them to do,” said J. David Nick, attorney for the dispensary. “The regulations establish controls of location, it doesn’t signify prohibition.”

The court will issue a ruling within 90 days.


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