Thursday, January 11, 2007
Governor Proposes to Fund 100 New Superior Court Judgeships
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday proposed a state spending plan that is relatively lean but includes money to fund 100 new superior court judgeships and to continue existing trial court operations.
Total judicial branch spending for the fiscal year beginning July 1 would be a little over $3.7 billion, with $3.265 billion going to trial courts. Included in the trial court funding would be $27.8 million for 50 new judgeships approved last year—those positions would not be funded until June of this year—and $74.3 million to fund an additional 50 slots beginning in spring of next year.
Assemblyman John J. Benoit, R-Riverside, issued a statement supporting the governor’s stance, noting that approximately 27 of the positions are expected to go to the Inland Empire.
“The funding of 100 new judgeships statewide will certainly ease the backlog of criminal cases, resulting in fewer dismissals and bad plea bargains,” the lawmaker said. “It will also increase access in civil case-plagued counties, such as Riverside, which have had to issue moratoriums on hearings because of unavailable courtrooms.”
Judicial Council Response
William Vickrey, the administrative director of the state courts, said that while the judicial branch did not get everything it asked for, the governor’s proposal is “very good, because it represents continuity” in the courts’ operations.
The 100 new judgeships, he said, would help heal a “deficiency that has accrued over the last 15 to 20 years” as caseloads have built up while the number of judges remained constant.
Vickrey also expressed excitement over the proposed $5 million appropriation for a startup program that would heed Chief Justice Ronald M. George’s call for state funding of representation for indigent litigants in certain civil cases. The initial spending would allow for a pilot project in three counties of various sizes, Vickrey explained.
While the initial scope of the project would be small, he added, the funding is “a major step towards dealing with the economic barriers to representation in civil cases.”
Vickrey also praised the appropriation of roughly $17.4 million to implement legislatively mandated reforms in the probate courts and over $ 1 million for appellate representation of dependent children.
The proposal would also implement some of the Judicial Council’s recommendations for new courthouse projects, as the conversion of courthouse ownership from the counties to the state is phased in. Among the counties getting new courthouses would be Riverside and San Bernardino.
Projects Not Funded
The proposal would also allow for flexibility in determining how to meet new facilities needs, Vickrey explained. For example, courts could enter into lease-purchase arrangements and private-public partnerships, and could build multiuse courthouses in which space would be leased out for retail purposes.
Among the projects not funded by the proposal, however, is the replacement of the Long Beach courthouse. Vickrey said the Judicial Council would seek to convince the governor and his aides to include funds for that, as well as for interpreters in civil cases and court security improvements, when the revised budget proposal is submitted in May.
Beyond the judicial branch, the governor’s plan calls for elimination of the state’s operating deficit for the first time in nearly a decade and another round of massive borrowing for public works projects.
The $143.4 billion budget would limit general fund spending increases to less than 1 percent in the 2007-08 fiscal year, the smallest such increase in five years.
This budget is a responsible budget,” Schwarzenegger said. “This is a prudent and realistic budget. This is a budget that lives within our means but still provides crucial services.”
The spending plan also would put the state on track to pay off early the billions in borrowing voters approved in 2003 to bail out the state after the dot-com crash. The bonds would be paid off in 2009, 14 years ahead of schedule.
That move appeared designed to free state resources to cover $43.3 billion in new borrowing for construction of schools, prisons, dams and other projects that Schwarzenegger proposed Tuesday in his state of the state address. That would be on top of the $42.7 billion in bond spending California voters approved in November.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company