Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Judicial Council Approves Legislative Priorities, Opposes AB1208
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Judicial Council, during a meeting yesterday, resolved that its top legislative priority for 2012 will be advocating for a judicial branch budget that will protect critical services to the public and keep courts open, a spokesperson reported.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, chair of the Judicial Council, said in a statement that the state’s courts “are on the frontlines of the economic crisis,” and it is “is essential that judicial branch funding be stabilized in order to keep our courtrooms open and protect the public.”
She suggested that further cuts to the branch’s budget, following cumulative reductions of $653 million over the past four years, “almost certainly will have unwelcome consequences for public safety and the viability of order in our communities.”
This fiscal year, the final judicial branch budget included $350 million in reductions for trial and appellate courts.
The council also voted to continue to oppose AB 1208, introduced in February by Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Industry, which proposes increasing administrative and financial autonomy for trial courts.
On Friday, the Alliance of California Judges asked the council to abstain from taking a position on the measure, which has sharply divided the judiciary, but the council voted to oppose AB 1208 with one abstention.
A spokesperson for the council said it will “[c]ontinue to oppose Assembly Bill 1208 and similar efforts to legislate fundamental judicial branch governance, lessen the role of the Judicial Council in determining the allocation of funds to the trial courts, or reduce the council’s role in ensuring the stability of and providing oversight over trial court operations.”
Other legislative priorities identified by the council over the course of its two-day meeting in San Francisco include the continued advocacy for the creation of new judgeships and the ratification of the council’s authority to convert vacant subordinate judicial officer positions to judgeships.
The council also approved an emergency funding request from the San Joaquin Superior Court, which had asked for money from the council’s urgent needs reserve fund to avoid more layoffs, furloughs, reduced hours, and the possibility of additional court closures.
Of the $2 million funding requested by the court, the council approved $1.08 million to be used for immediate concerns such as avoiding court closures and layoffs. The remaining $916,000 will be loaned to the court as a five-year, interest free loan.
San Joaquin is the second court to request and receive funding this year, with the first being the San Francisco Superior Court, which obtained a $2.5 million loan in September.
The council on Monday additionally endorsed canceling planned projects in Alpine and Sierra counties while proceeding with a majority of the remaining projects
funded under SB 1407, which provides up to $5 billion in funding for 41 new and renovated court facilities identified by the AOC as critically needed, using court user fees.
This plan enables 33 projects to proceed without delay this fiscal year, while 6 projects will be delayed by a few months, until the beginning of the next fiscal year, when revenue collected in the courts should again be available in the account that funds courthouse construction.
Budgets for all remaining SB 1407 projects were also cut by 4 percent, and the program-wide contingency amount was reduced from 4.6 to 3 percent of the total $5 billion program.
Justice Jeffrey Johnson, of this district’s Court of Appeal, was also appointed chair of a courthouse cost reduction subcommittee, charged with reviewing all new courthouse projects for ways to further reduce costs without compromising safety or security.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company