Tuesday, January 19, 2010
McCoy to Judicial Council: Prioritize Court Operations
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles “Tim” McCoy has called on the Judicial Council to make keeping courts open its top priority before deciding whether to continue or reduce the number of monthly court closures for the remainder of the fiscal year.
McCoy, in a letter sent Thursday, said it was time the council made “hard decisions on priorities” and urged it to take immediate steps to commit “all available means”—including funds for new courthouses and technology—to protect existing court operations from further decay.
Explaining that “the situation is deteriorating,” the presiding judge said existing allocation reductions have put the Superior Court “on a path leading inexorably to a 34% workforce reduction over about two and one-half years.”
“That workforce loss translates into more than 180 courtrooms closed and the effective closure of about 9 courthouses. More than half the civil courtrooms, and nearly one-third of the family and children’s courtrooms will be closed. Traffic operations may be cut by half, or more, and collections will suffer.”
The Judicial Council announced Friday that it has scheduled a public meeting on Jan. 21 at its conference center in San Francisco to evaluate the impact of the one-day-a-month court closures in state courts that began last September and consider whether to continue them.
But McCoy, citing current “budget realities,” said the council “must fundamentally decide whether it will arrange the order of its budget priorities so that, first and foremost, the goal is to enable all courts throughout the state to remain uniformly open.”
“The Judicial Council must decide this order of budget priorities before it considers the question of court closures.”
The judge also emphasized that “there is a vital economic component” in addition to the human toll associated with courtroom closures. He pointed to a study by Los Angeles economic research and consulting firm Micronomics Inc. concluding that budget allocation reductions already imposed on the Los Angeles Superior Court will cumulatively damage the state and local economies by nearly $30 billion, lead to more than 155,000 lost jobs, and reduce state and local tax revenues by about $1.6 billion.
“Pursuing other priorities such as new courthouse construction may stimulate 105,000 jobs directly and indirectly, but at a cost of more than 155,000 jobs lost just from forced closures in the Los Angeles Superior Court system,” he said.
The judge followed up his call for the prioritization of fully funding court operations by urging the council to temporarily redirect funds—including those from SB 1407—it “might otherwise prefer to spend on worthy projects such as new courthouse construction and [the California Court Case Management System].”
Authored by Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, and signed into law in 2008, 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 California Court Case Management System is a single, state-wide computer system meant to replace each county’s individual system.
Last July the council redirected $25 million in SB 1407 funds and $100 million of planned CCMS funding to protect court operations.
However, in October the council—over the lone dissenting vote of Los Angeles Superior Court Assistant Presiding Judge Lee Edmon—decided to allocate over $171 million for statewide administrative and technology infrastructure.
McCoy said he understood that redirecting SB 1407 funds would require legislation as well as “substantial time and effort,” especially in the face of “[s]trong interests external to the [Judicial] Branch” which may oppose it. But delay, he warned, “risks catastrophe for court operations.”
“Worse yet, once the SB 1407 bonds are sold, there will be no going back. The $280 million income stream now collected annually statewide to support sale of the bonds will be forfeited forever as a potential life preserver for court operations.”
A spokesperson for the Judicial Council said Friday the council had not yet received the letter and declined further comment.
The Superior Court’s public information officer, Allan Parachini, confirmed the letter was mailed Thursday, but similarly declined further comment.
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