Thursday, December 9, 2010
AOC Supports Bid to Block State’s Plan to Sell Court Buildings
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The Administrative Office of the Courts is supporting a request for a preliminary injunction to block the state’s proposed $2.3 billion sale of 11 buildings, including two court facilities, to a private owner.
A hearing on the issue is scheduled to take place before San Francisco Superior Court Judge Charlotte Woolard tomorrow.
In a brief filed yesterday, AOC attorneys contended the state’s attempt to sell the Ronald Reagan State Building in downtown Los Angeles and the Civic Center Complex in San Francisco, along with nine other state-owned facilities, without approval from the Judicial Council, was unconstitutional.
The filing comes as part of a lawsuit initiated last month by two former Los Angeles State Building Authority members to prevent completion of the deal, which is slated to close on Wednesday.
Bad Deal Alleged
Burlingame attorney Joseph Cotchett, who is representing Jerry Epstein and Redmond Doms, said his clients “were thrown off” of the agency’s governing board by the governor because they opposed the sale proposal as “a waste of taxpayer dollars.” They claim the state would wind up paying more in rents to lease the buildings back from the new owner—a private partnership called California First—than it would gain from unloading the facilities on the market.
The Nov. 16 complaint also alleged that lawmakers overstepped their bounds by including the buildings—which house the California Supreme Court, and the Courts of Appeal for this district and the First District—in the sale.
“It’s absolutely clear, based upon the constitution and the separation of powers doctrine, that neither the governor nor the legislature can deny the courts the buildings they need to render justice,” Cotchett told the MetNews yesterday.
The attorney posited that any other conclusion would allow “a governor who didn’t like a decision of the Supreme Court [to] simply say ‘we’re selling your court,’ ” in retaliation. “That’s what the law was set up to prevent,” Cotchett said.
“It’s absolutely clear that this [sale] was done in violation of the law and we now have at least one party to the law, the state Judicial Council, acknowledging that no approval was given by them, and pointing out that these appellate courts cannot be sold without their approval,” he added.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature approved the sale last June and enacted Government Code Sec. 14670.13, which endowed the Department of General Services with complete authority to carry out the transaction.
Attorneys for the AOC argued that the statute had to be reconciled with Sec. 69204, which charges the Judicial Council with exercising “full responsibility, jurisdiction, control and authority as an owner would have over appellate court facilities, including, but not limited to, the acquisition and development of facilities.”
Pursuant to Sec. 69204, the AOC claimed “the council is the de facto owner” of the Ronald Reagan State Building and the Civic Center Complex and, “as such, has the legal obligation to consider the effect that the proposed sale of these appellate court facilities to private interests would have on the administration of appellate justice.”
The agency suggested that allowing the sale to be completed would leave the courts “beholden and subject to a private landlord whose interests could potentially conflict with the ability of these appellate tribunals to carry out their constitutional functions.”
Judiciary’s ‘Dignity’ Cited
The AOC further claimed the “dignity of an independent judiciary requires that the Judicial Branch have reasonable and sufficient opportunity to consider whether the proposed sale of historic appellate facilities to private interests would impair the Judicial Branch’s constitutional functions.”
As “a separate, independent, and co-equal branch of government,” the agency insisted “the Judicial Branch must have the inherent power to consider whether its appellate facilities—including its branch headquarters—will be sold to private interests and, if so, on what terms.”
Sacramento attorney Andrew Stroud, who is representing the governor and head of DGS, said he “looked at” the AOC’s brief but commented: “We don’t agree with their position.”
The AOC and Judicial Council “are not the owners of the building and they do not have the authority to tell the owners of the building whether they can or cannot sell the building,” Stroud remarked.
“There is not an issue of the separation of powers…and nothing we have read here changes out mind,” he said, adding the AOC’s brief “makes me even more firm in our belief that we are correct.”
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company