Monday, May 10, 2004
Governor, AOC Reach Agreement to Boost Trial Court Funding
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
An agreement reached by the Governor’s Office and state court officials will boost funding for the trial courts in the next budget by $40 million instead of cutting it by $59 million, the governor’s finance director said Friday.
The $99 million shift was announced by state Director of Finance Donna Arduin. In a statement, Arduin said the agreement will “provide the system with the resources needed for the administration of justice in the state, and it includes structural reform that’s needed to provide the kinds of savings and efficiencies that both we and the judiciary believe are necessary.”
The new figure will be included in the budget revision to be announced this week, Arduin said.
Arduin’s statement, and an accompanying description of the agreement released by the Department of Finance, appeared to suggest the boost was tied to court support for dramatic changes in the way the state’s 58 superior courts deal with their employees.
As part of the agreement, the department’s statement said, the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will propose legislation under which it and the Administrative Office of the Courts would participate in collective bargaining with trial court employees. If collective bargaining agreements between trial courts their workers called for spending more money, they would have to be “brought before and agreed upon by the AOC and the Department of Finance,” the statement explained.
Currently the superior courts negotiate their own collective bargaining agreements, though under 1997 legislation the costs of the trial courts are now paid by state, not local, government.
But the statement also described court officials as having expressed only a “willingness...to further explore” reform in the collective bargaining process, and an AOC spokesperson said the courts had not agreed to support the plan.
In a statement released by the AOC, Chief Justice Ronald M. George said the governor had “proposed structural reforms to promote the goals of fiscal accountability and cost efficiency—goals that the judicial branch supports,” but did not refer specifically to changes in how collective bargaining agreements are negotiated.
The AOC statement also said the budget revision will include an additional $4.3 million in funding for the state’s appellate courts, the Judicial Council of California, and the AOC itself.
Other Cuts Proposed
The administration will also propose other changes aimed at achieving savings of $10 million annually, the Department of Finance statement said. The bulk of that money would come from increased use of electronic recording to replace the use of court reporters, estimated to save $6.4 million, and elimination of jury service pay for government employees, estimated to save $2.3 million.
The statement did not provide details of the jury pay proposal, but government workers who receive full salary from their employers while on jury duty must now turn over to the employer the $15 per day jury service fee paid to them by the court after the first day of service. The proposed change, if adopted, would apparently result in public entities losing their right to recover those fees, which partially offset the cost of paying their workers to serve on juries.
The other components of the proposed $10 million in cuts are:
•Eliminating the governmental exemption from civil court filing fees, for a projected savings of $312,000;
•Reducing peremptory challenges in all case types, for a projected savings of $372,000;
•Implementing smaller jury panel sizes, for a projected savings of $241,000; and
•Decreasing the size of juries in limited jurisdiction civil cases, for a projected savings of $173,000.
In her statement, Arduin credited George and his staff “for working with us to reach this agreement,” and the chief justice’s statement said the agreement would ensure access to the courts and avoid the need for drastic cuts.
“Today, the Governor has exercised strong leadership and sensitivity in protecting the judiciary’s constitutional role as a co-equal branch of government,” George’s statement declared. “Most importantly, I am grateful for the personal actions he has taken to protect the public’s right to have necessary access to their courts to ensure public safety, to provide for the protection of children, to promote social stability in our communities, and to ensure a stable business environment for growth.”
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company