Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, May 13, 2004


Page 1


Schwarzenegger Court Funding Proposal Calls for Collective Bargaining Reform Plan by November


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The administration plan to boost court funding in the budget for next fiscal year also calls for formulation of a plan to reform collective bargaining with court employees by November, according to documents released yesterday.

Additional details about the plan, which was announced Friday, were contained in two Department of Finance documents made public by the Administrative Office of the Courts. The plan, a part of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s May budget revision, would increase trial court funding by nearly $100 million over the budget the governor proposed in January.

Instead of cutting funding for the state’s 58 superior courts by $59 million, as he proposed in January, Schwarzenegger has agreed to a budget increasing spending on the trial courts by $40 million over the figure for the current fiscal year.

In announcing the agreement, the state Department of Finance appeared to suggest it was linked to a reform plan under which the department and the AOC would have the right to veto collective bargaining agreements between superior courts and their employees if the agreements would increase court spending. 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.

Court officials, however, said they had only agreed to explore that option.

One of the documents released yesterday is budget legislation language being proposed by the Department of Finance. It would require the Judicial Council of California to “establish a working group to review trial court collective bargaining issues and make recommendations to the Governor, and the Legislature by November 1, 2004 regarding procedures to increase accountability to the funding source of the trial courts and to ensure the fair treatment of trial court employees and adequate funding for salary and benefits of trial court employees.”

Though the proposal does not specify what those recommendations should be, a prefatory section explains that the Schwarzenegger administration is seeking a “a linkage between the appropriation process and the negotiations for wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment adjustments which require additional expenditure of State funds.”

Another document released yesterday provides additional details about an administration proposal for changes the Department of Finance said would reduce trial court costs by $10 million. Those changes were not part of the negotiations between the administration and state court officials.

Most of the savings 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 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.

The Department of Finance summary released yesterday specified that the proposal to replace court

reporters with recording equipment, which had drawn fire from union representatives, would be achieved “only through attrition of currently employed court reporters.”

The estimated savings from eliminating jury service fees for government employees, the summary explained, were based on an AOC estimate that 20 percent of jurors are public workers who receive their full salaries from their employers while serving on juries. They must now turn over to their employers the $15 per day jury service fee paid to them by the court after the first day of service, partially offsetting the cost of their absence from work.

The proposal to eliminate the filing fee exemption would apply to “all governmental agencies except for state agencies,” the summary said.

The projected savings from reducing the size of jury panels would come from limiting panels to 35 jurors. The summary said that an AOC sampling of courts indicated felony panels currently average 68 jurors,  misdemeanor panels 53, and civil panels 57.

As for limited jurisdiction civil cases, which are those in which the amount in controversy is no more than $25,000, the administration proposal is to adopt legislation allowing them to be tried by eight-person juries. A pilot program using eight-member juries in Los Angeles County municipal court civil cases was carried out during the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown, but was allowed to expire.


Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company