Monday, December 7, 2009
Bench-Bar Coalition Opposes Tapping SB 1407 Funds
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The Bench-Bar Coalition is calling upon its members to advocate for restoration of the judiciary’s budget and to oppose the diversion of courthouse construction funds to court operating costs, as proposed last month by Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles W. McCoy.
After a conference call Thursday night, Curtis L. Child, director of the Office of Government Affairs for the Judicial Council, said “what the coalition is committed to doing and making sure of is that the Legislature understands the need for adequate funding for the courts and to ensure that the courts’ badly-needed infrastructure needs are protected as well.”
In a presentation to the Los Angeles County Bar Association two weeks ago, McCoy said that the Los Angeles Superior Court collects about $73 million a year under SB 1407 and suggested that those monies be reallocated to the court’s operating budget.
Authored by Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, and signed into law last year, SB 1407 is supposed to provide $5 billion to help the state upgrade its courthouses, financed entirely though lease revenue bonds supported by an increase in penalties and assessments for traffic tickets and criminal convictions. The first 15 projects funded by SB 1407 got under way in late July of this year
McCoy conceded that tapping into the SB 1407 revenue would not be a complete solution for the court, which he said has a current budget deficit of $79.3 million, but insisted that “it should be part of a comprehensive plan” to keep the courts going.
However, according to a “Fact Sheet” from the Administrative Office of the Courts, diverting the funds and delaying the 41 projects slated to receive that money would impair the state’s ability to create 105,000 jobs and cost the state an estimated $300 million in lost buying power for each year of delay.
Neither McCoy nor the AOC returned phone calls seeking comment on Friday.
Child said the coalition members were “having a discussion on the budget challenges” facing the judiciary during the conference call on Thursday, and that “what everyone agrees upon is that the budget reduction this past year has put significant strain on the courts.”
He explained that the coalition “historically has been a group that has been active in ensuring that they’re communicating with elected representatives on the needs of the judiciary,” adding that “we all need to be, and clearly are, advocating that the impacts [of budget cuts] on the branch are significant…, and communicating those with decision-makers.”
The message is “sort of a two-parter,” Child said, urging lawmakers to ensure that the courts “are going to be adequately funded going into the future” while still “supporting the court infrastructure” with badly needed court facilities.
The Bench-Bar Coalition was formed in 1993 with the mission of enhancing communication and coordinating the activities of the judicial community as well as securing adequate, dependable, and stable funding for the trial courts.
Membership includes judges and the presidents, past presidents, presidents-elect, executive directors or others designated by the president, of a state, local, minority or specialty bar association; legal services organization; or statewide organization dedicated to improving the justice system.
The group is co-chaired by Ruthe C. Ashley, past vice president of the State Bar of California, and Thomas J. Warwick Jr., a former Judicial Council member and past president of the San Diego County Bar Association.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company