Wednesday, August 24, 2011
AOC Responsible for Court’s Dire Financial Straits—Judge Feinstein
Edmon Says L.A. Will Not Seek Emergency Funds, but Judicial Council Needs to Step up for Trial Courts
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
San Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein has laid the blame for her court’s dire fiscal situation, which has led it to issue layoff notices to 40 percent of its staff and schedule the closure of 25 civil courtrooms, squarely at the feet of the Administrative Office of the Courts.
In a three-page missive to the chief justice and Judicial Council dated Monday, Feinstein said her court “faces an especially hard solution to our deficit this year precisely because we mistakenly followed the AOC’s guidance last year.”
She explained that the court was poised to layoff 122 employees last May, but “[t]he very day we were scheduled to deliver those notices, AOC leaders called upon us not to issue those layoff notices” since it would “jeopardize a pending $230 million legislative package of new revenues and redirection of branch funds intended to backfill prior cuts.”
Since the “AOC leaders were certain that this deal would be fully enacted,” Feinstein said, the court “acquiesced to the AOC’s direction and relied upon their representations” only to later discover the AOC’s “confidence in its bargain with Sacramento was misplaced,” as the deal fell through and lawmakers voted for even further cuts to the judiciary’s budget.
Feinstein claimed that the one-year delay in implementing its planned restructuring “now forces us to lay off 80 more employees than we would have had to lay off last year,” and had the court not followed the AOC’s advice, she said “we would have ended FY 2010-11 with a $15 million reserve, which would have solved our current year’s deficit….”
The planned layoffs and court closures, she said, are projected to save the court $17 million over the next two years, which combined with other “budget austerity measures,” will still leave the court with a cumulative $20.4 million deficit.
The jurist said she has shared these projections with AOC staff “on more than one occasion” and “received no indication from anyone at the AOC that the financial picture we present is flawed in any way.” Nor, has the AOC offered any financial assistance, she added.
‘Done All We Can’
Feinstein insisted her court and its employees have “done all we can in the past three years to avoid what awaits us on October 3, 2011, which is the near cessation of our civil operation and the dispatch of 177 of our employees to the end of California’s lengthening unemployment lines,” and “urgently implore[d] the Judicial Council to reallocate substantial branch resources to the financially troubled trial courts, including the Court that is your next-door neighbor.”
A spokesperson for the AOC referred requests for comment to the Judicial Council. The media contact for that agency did not return a call seeking comment.
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Lee Edmon said she had seen Feinstein’s letter and would “like to see the council take this up for discussion” and “to see them provide funding to keep the trial courts open.”
She said the Los Angeles court is not going to be seeking emergency funding from the branch this year to meet an expected budget deficit of $85 million “because of the difficult decisions and actions we took a year ago”—which included the layoffs of over 300 employees—left the court with enough savings to absorb some of the loss of funding this fiscal year.
But for the next fiscal year, Edmon said, the expected deficit will increase to $161 million, and the year after that, to $204 million, which will be “devastating” to the court. Starting with fiscal year 2012-13, she warned, “we can no longer make it without taking drastic steps.”
Although a final decision as to how the court will proceed has yet to be made, Edmon said, the “plan is to downsize the court” and “significant layoffs” are being planned for the next two years.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company