Monday, April 26, 2010
Judicial Council Rejects McCoy’s Plea for Funds Shift
From Staff and Wire Reports
The Judicial Council on Friday overwhelmingly rejected a plea from Los Angeles’ top judge for an emergency cash infusion, despite the prediction that failure to provide it would lead to hundreds of layoffs.
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles “Tim” McCoy Jr. in February asked the court’s policy making body to pursue legislation to transfer $47 million from a construction fund to help close a $133 million budget deficit. McCoy said that without the transfer, the Los Angeles courts would have to lay off 500 workers in September and probably more next year.
But on Friday, the council at its meeting in San Francisco voted 15-2 against the request.
Officials with the Administrative Office of the Courts, which the council oversees, told voting members that Los Angeles appeared to be exaggerating its bleak financial outlook. The AOC staff urged members to seek a statewide solution to the financial woes afflicting nearly all the courthouses in California’s 58 counties.
“They and every other court in the state needs money,” AOC chief William Vickrey said.
AOC finance director Stephen Nash said he was optimistic that other funding sources would be found to alleviate Los Angeles’s financial woes. He also said that even under current conditions, it appears Los Angeles could avoid layoffs.
Some on the council said they didn’t want to transfer money from a fund the Legislature specifically created for construction to cover operating expenses.
“We risk the chance of ever getting meaningful help from the Legislature,” San Bernardino Superior Court Judge James Welch said.
The council’s position rankled the two voting members from Los Angeles.
“The fact of the matter is that LA’s numbers are based on our experience,” Los Angeles Superior Court Assistant Presiding Judge Lee Edmon said. “The AOC is not in the trenches everyday.”
Edmon, who called the AOC’s position “unnecessary second-guessing,” was joined by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Wesley in voting to transfer the money from the construction fund.
Los Angeles court officials said its $133 million budget deficit will be permanent each year unless there is an influx of funds from somewhere.
Informed of the decision, McCoy said, “This is a sad day for justice.”
He said he expects the council to change its position, perhaps in a matter of weeks, if no further funds are located.
“They are courting disaster with the courts of Los Angeles,” McCoy said. He predicted that, barring a turnaround, “On September first, I am going to lay off an additional 500 employees.”
Speaking Thursday night at a fundraiser for a non-profit family law clinic, McCoy argued that about $280 million is “just sitting” in the court construction fund, garnered from fines collected since January 2009. He said that court construction bonds, authorized by legislation in 2008, will not start to be sold “for at least three more years.”
The Los Angeles system has already laid off 329 workers—about 6 percent of its 5,400-person work force.
Council members voting against the proposal said that all courthouses have been hit hard because of the financially troubled state’s decision to slash $393 million from state trial courts in the budget this year. The state also has been closing all California courthouses on the third Wednesday of every month, with employees unpaid for those days.
More than 85 percent of state judges also agreed to forego their salaries for the so-called furlough days. But the savings on salary have not been enough to fill the budget gap.
McCoy pointed yesterday to the vast sweep of the Los Angeles civil court system.
“Legal business from all around the country gravitates to Los Angeles, so it’s going to have a nationwide impact,” he said.
In other news, the council on Friday:
•Accepted the Elkins Family Law Task Force final report, which makes 117 comprehensive recommendations intended to increase access to justice for all family litigants, ensure fairness and due process, and create more effective and consistent family law rules, policies, and procedures in California’s family courts. The council also directed that a committee be established to implement the task force’s recommendations.
•Amended California Rules of Court, rule 10.603, which outlines the authority and duties of presiding judges of superior courts. The amended rule requires the development of policies and procedures related to the setting and modification of a court executive officer’s total compensation package to ensure appropriate accountability and transparency.
•Adopted California Rules of Court, rule 4.700 to provide a procedure for courts issuing criminal protective orders in domestic violence cases to assist them in determining whether the defendant has complied with the court’s order to relinquish or sell any firearms that the defendant owns, possesses or controls.
•Adopted a resolution recognizing the 10th anniversary of the Complex Civil Litigation Program and honoring the judges, staff and participating courts for their contributions in ensuring access to justice.
•Approved updates to the AOC’s Conflict of Interest Code. Since the code was last amended in March 2009, the AOC determined that other classifications should be included as designated positions in the code to bring it up to date, the council said.
Staff also identified the types of financial interests that employees in these classifications should be required to disclose, the council added, and two other classifications cited in the code were deleted because they no longer exist.
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