Thursday, May 15, 2008
Czuleger Expresses Concern Over Impact of Fiscal Crisis
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czuleger estimated yesterday that the court may end up experiencing 34 vacant judicial officer positions by the end of this year, but said he does not know whether or when they will be filled given the state’s current fiscal crisis.
In the wake of a new spending plan that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed yesterday to close California’s $17.2 billion budget shortfall, Czuleger told the MetNews that he is concerned about the potential effects of any solution to the state’s fiscal crisis on the court’s ability to fill current and anticipated vacancies in judicial officer positions.
The jurist said that he is aware of fears that the governor might consider allowing vacancies on the bench that are not filled by election to remain open for the time being in order to cut costs, but said that he had not heard anything from the governor’s office or other sources as to whether such a measure might be under consideration.
Czuleger said that, by his count, the court currently has 14 vacancies, including seats up for election on the June 3 primary ballot where judges have retired, commissionerships that have been converted into judgeships under AB 159 that have not yet been filled by the governor, and the seat previously held by Judge David M. Mintz, who died Tuesday.
He also estimated that, if anticipated vacancies and seats held by judges on long -term disability were to be counted, the total number of vacancies experienced by the court this year would reach at least 21 by the end of July, before climbing even higher by Dec. 31.
Czuleger said that the court is already feeling the effect of so many vacancies, noting that it “has difficulties now.”
He said that he had told supervising judges and the executive committee to “try to balance as best as they can,” and that the court is trying to “accommodate” its needs as best as it can under the circumstances.
In addition to any potential impact on current or anticipated judicial vacancies, the presiding judge said that he is “very concerned” that any solution to the state’s fiscal crisis might affect funding for assigned judges. He noted that the court currently relies on 20 to 30 such jurists, but declined to predict any outcome, saying that he was still waiting for an analysis of the impact of the governor’s proposal.
Czuleger also said that he did not know what impact the state’s fiscal crisis might have on the ongoing conversion of subordinate judicial officers into judgeships under AB 159.
Enacted last year, the measure provides for the conversion of up to 162 subordinate judicial officer positions, including commissioner posts, into judgeships to be filled by the governor. Sixteen positions statewide had been slated to be converted by June 30 of this year, including two in the Los Angeles Superior Court, and up to 16 vacant positions are to be converted each fiscal year hereafter.
The Judicial Council adopted a methodology in December for identifying positions for conversion according to judicial need that requires courts to notify the Administrative Office of the Court promptly upon confirmation that a position eligible for conversion has or will become vacant, and provide the anticipated date of vacancy.
Courts are prohibited under the scheme from filling a position until the council’s Executive and Planning Committee decides whether to convert it, but the methodology did not set a deadline for the committee to act, and any converted position remains open until the governor selects an appointee.
Noting that the governor had not filled any such converted positions on the court, and that he could fill vacant subordinate judicial officer positions “within 30 to 45 days,” Czuleger said that he had engaged in discussions with Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Richard D. Huffman, chairman of the Judicial Council’s Executive and Planning Committee, who Czuleger said had granted him authorization on the council’s behalf to fill some of the vacant subordinate judicial officer positions, rather than allow them to be converted.
Czuleger also said that he expected to continue to work with Huffman and the council in an attempt to retain and fill further such positions.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company