Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, August 18, 2004


Page 1


Governor Signs Bill Adopting Court Budget Reform, Giving State Share of Punitive Damages


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Legislation that reforms the trial court budget process and makes other changes in the state’s legal system has been signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Administrative Office of the Courts reported yesterday.

The AOC said the governor Monday signed SB 1102, the “general government omnibus Budget trailer bill” that must be enacted every year in order to conform statutory law to the annual budget.

SB 1102 amends Government Code Sec.  77202 to provide that the annual trial court budget be adjusted for operating costs, including employee salaries and benefits, based upon a computation of the year-to-year percentage change in the annual state appropriations limit,

The reform, Schwarzenegger said in a statement distributed by the AOC, will improve access to the courts and thus “provide our communities with vital public safety services, access for families, and a stable economic environment for businesses.”

Chief Justice Ronald M. George said in a statement:

 “I am pleased that the judicial branch will move forward with this important budget reform that will be a model for state court systems across the nation. It will establish a new budget process that respects the California court system as a co-equal branch of government by protecting budgets from erosion or reduction, and will help ensure the independence and neutrality of our courts.”

The new budget process, the chief justice explained, “will formalize the procedure for budget requests to implement new programs—such as drug courts, complex litigation courts, and domestic violence courts—and to address other factors that may alter court operations, such as dramatic changes in population that may require new judicial positions based on workload.

George praised Sen. Joe Dunn, the Santa Ana Democrat whose subcommittee handles judiciary-related budget matters, and Senate Republican leader Dick Ackerman of Tustin for helping pass the bill. Dunn and Ackerman are both lawyers.

Both issued statements saying the bill would improve judicial independence and access to courts. “We must protect funding for the courts and ensure that the judicial branch is not regarded as a luxury to be properly funded only during good economic times,” Dunn said.

SB 1102 also:

•Provides that 75 percent of all punitive damages are payable to the state. The provision applies only to cases filed after the bill becomes law—which will occur as soon as the Governor’s Office files it with the secretary of state—and settled or adjudicated by the sunset date of June 30, 2006.

•Extends $10 or $20 filing fee surcharges which were added last year to the total filing fee in civil cases. The fees will now be collected through June 30 of next year unless a new, uniform filing fee is enacted before then.

•Removes the superior courts from the process of adjudicating grievances under the Trial Court Employment Protection and Governance Act and the Trial Court Interpreter Employment and Labor Relations Act. From now on, such matters will be processed as unfair labor practice charges by the Public Employment Relations Board, whose rulings will be subject to review by the Court of Appeal.

If a contract provides for arbitration, the panel will be made up of Court of Appeal justices, the bill provides.  


Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company