Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, April 9, 2003


Page 1


Talks Involving Senator, AOC Avert Court Closures, but Issues Remain


By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts


Weekend talks involving state court officials and a key legislator have averted court closures and mandatory employee furloughs, at least between now and June 30, participants said yesterday.

Sen. Joseph Dunn, D-Garden Grove, told the MetNews he was able to broker an agreement—the precise details of which still have to be worked out—which assures that the Los Angeles Superior Court gets the money it needs to pay its employees for all of the remaining court days in the current fiscal year.

Dunn, a trial lawyer, is a member of the Senate Budget Committee and chairs the subcommittee with jurisdiction over all state court funding.

The Los Angeles Superior Court Executive Committee last Friday approved a plan that would have established eight furlough days over the coming weeks. The plan, which drew an angry response from the unions representing court employees, was to have become final unless union representatives and court officials agreed on another plan at a meeting yesterday.

Non-Starter With Unions

But the alternative proposed by the court’s Personnel and Budget Committee—that employees convert paid days into additional vacation time for next year—was a non-starter with the unions. Representatives of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—which represents many of the court’s workers—last week distributed bright green “I Don’t Work for Free, Do You?” buttons.

The court said action was necessary because it had to cut $6.7 million from its budget as part of a statewide court budget reduction ordered last month by Gov. Gray Davis.

But “the immediate nut,” Dunn explained yesterday, was the need to find $4 million, the amount identified by the court as necessary to avoid mandatory furloughs. After talks Sunday and Monday, Dunn said, he was able to convince the parties to “reapproach the problem with open minds” and the local court was assured that the funds will be there.

The specifics, Dunn said, remain to be worked out among the court, the Administrative Office of the Courts, and Los Angeles County.

Trial Court ‘Evolution’

The local court’s problem, the lawmaker explained, is a function not only of tight court budgets, but of the “evolution” of California’s trial court system from one of 58 largely autonomous courts to a highly centralized system in which the state provides most of the funds and will eventually own the courthouses.

The court, he said, was “caught between the old regime of being financed by the county to the new regime of being financed by the state.”

Of the $4 million at issue, Dunn explained, $3.3 million is assertedly owed to the county for services it provides to the court. State and local court officials, the senator said, “will go through that with the county, line by line.”

Eventually, he commented, part of that money will have to come from the state court budget and “some may end up on the shoulders of the county.”

Legislation probably will not be required, he said.

AOC officials, who reportedly have had a somewhat strained relationship with officials of the local court, said the agreement will serve Chief Justice Ronald M. George’s admonition in his recent State of the Judiciary address that budget problems be resolved without court closures and with as little impact as possible on employees.

But Assistant Presiding Judge William McLaughlin, in a memo to staff on Monday, and AOC Chief Deputy Director Ron Overholt, in a statement issued yesterday, both emphasized that there will have to be further discussions between the court and labor representatives on cost-cutting.

Union officials said yesterday that they are willing to discuss alternatives, including voluntary furloughs, elimination of overtime or replacement of overtime with compensatory time off, and suspension of the policy that allows employees to buy back unused sick leave.


Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company