Friday, May 28, 2010
McCoy Unveils Details of Plan to Address Court Funding
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles “Tim” McCoy Jr. this week at a meeting of the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s trustees unveiled details of a multiyear plan to partially solve the court’s funding crisis.
Appearing at the group’s Wednesday meeting with Assistant Presiding Judge Lee Edmon, McCoy told attendees that talks with legislative leaders and others had yielded a plan aimed at ending furloughs and delaying further layoffs or court closures until the 2013-14 fiscal year.
He said the plan—a combination of legislative allocations, redirection of construction and computer system upgrade funds, fee increases and other steps—could prevent 500 layoffs and accompanying court closures currently slated for September.
“We’ve made significant reductions,” McCoy said, but “we’re heading towards Armageddon” under the current operational plan.
The court laid off 329 employees in March, “almost 10 percent” of its workforce when added to the number expected to be lost through attrition, McCoy said, and closed 18 courtrooms.
The court’s budget deficit is expected to increase to $120 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year under the current operational plan, and then to around $140 million in the following two fiscal years. McCoy said the cumulative loss of employees will top 1,100 next fiscal year and then rise to over 1,800 the following fiscal year under the current plan.
In response, McCoy set forth 10 steps he said could bring in as much as $333 million in new money for courts statewide this fiscal year if adopted, including $96 million in additional funding for the Superior Court. The revised plan would also bring in $233 million statewide next fiscal year, including $63 million for Los Angeles.
McCoy said $100 million could be “shaken out” of SB 1407 courthouse construction funds without affecting projects or jobs funded by stimulus money, and called for a redirection of funds from the California Court Case Management System, the single, statewide computer system under development which is meant to replace each county’s individual system.
The revised plan would increase summary judgment, court call and pro hac vice fees, give courts a higher percentage of parking fines and red light camera tickets to cover procedural costs, and cut pension costs, he said. It would also be bolstered by legislative allocations for court security and the governor’s decision this month not to trigger $100 million in funding cuts for the courts, as he did last year.
McCoy said the figures could be even higher if the Legislature approves an “Automated Speed Enforcement Program” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed in January. That program would convert existing red light cameras at intersections—there are reportedly more than 1,000 operating statewide—into “speed on green” cameras that would issue citations to motorists who try to speed up at an intersection to make the light.
The presiding judge struck out last month in an effort to gain Judicial Council approval for using SB 1407 money to help close the operating deficit, with only the two voting members from his own court—Edmon and Judge David Wesley—backing him.
But McCoy said Wednesday that the new plan came about after he had a discussion with Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, who tasked Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Michael Feuer, D-Encino, to bring together a group including Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon, D-Montebello, staff members of Senate President Pro Tem Daryl Steinberg, D-Sacramento, attorneys, representatives of the construction trades, court employees, the Administrative Office of the Courts and law enforcement.
McCoy praised Perez’s efforts, commenting that the new speaker lives within blocks of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse and is “determined to stand up for the town and the courts here.”
Under the revised plan, McCoy estimated, this fiscal year’s budget deficit would remain about the same, but the deficit would drop to $53 million next fiscal year before rising to $62 million in the 2011-12 fiscal year and $70 million in the 2012-13 fiscal year.
“We’re still in the forest, but now we can see the light through the trees,” he told the trustees.
McCoy acknowledged a risk that the Judicial Council could decide to reallocate funds granted by the Legislature, but said he had been careful to address that in negotiations and that the entire revised plan was based on an understanding that the Superior Court will maintain its 28.9 percent share of state court funding.
He also said the plan could be handicapped if the governor decides to impose the $100 million trigger, pointing out that the state’s legislative analyst recommended doing so because the court has some reserve funds and has not yet spent its way down to zero. Vowing to resist, McCoy asked, “Can you imagine operating a business that way?”
The judge further confirmed the “bad news” that there will be no recovery from the last round of layoffs and closures, and noted that the court in the 2013-14 fiscal year will again face almost 500 layoffs, 40 courtroom closures and the closure of four courthouses.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company