Monday, September 12, 2011
Judicial Council Resolves Impasse Over S.F. Emergency Funding
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Judicial Council Friday approved allocation of $2.5 million in one-time
emergency funding to the San Francisco Superior Court, but not until after loosening proposed strings that appeared likely to result in rejection of the funding.
According to a transcript posted on the Judicial Council website, San Francisco Superior Court Executive Officer Michael Yuen expressed his “extreme dismay” that an agreement he had reached with Chief Deputy Director of the Courts Ronald G. Overholt on Aug. 30 had not been presented to the council as executed by them.
Yuen claimed “what we have here is a charade,” since a “doctored version” of the agreement that neither he nor Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein had seen was given to the council members for their consideration.
The original signed agreement, Yuen said, provided for $2.5 million in emergency funds to reduce the planned civil courtroom closures from 25 to 14, and reduce the number of layoffs from 177 to 75, but the agreement presented to the council contained an “option” which “would impose conditions on the court that we find totally unacceptable, and frankly, insulting,” resulting in “micromanagement of our financial affairs.”
Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Douglas Miller, newly-appointed chair of the council’s Executive and Planning Committee, took umbrage at Yuen’s remarks. “I don’t appreciate the lecture we received,” Miller said, insisting the council was “doing you a favor,” and for Yuen to “make it sound like…somehow we’re committing a crime or we’re doing something that is evil, I find offensive.”
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye also expressed irritation with the proposition that the agreement with Overholt was binding on the council. She opined that “because of this situation that we’re in, this [agreement] would be something that had to be approved by the judicial council, because the AOC, unlike the fiction out there, does not run council.”
Other council members later expressed concern that if funding were given to San Francisco, other courts will also seek aid and quickly deplete the $9.89 million available for fiscal year 2011-2012.
After some discussion on this point, Yuen told the council that Feinstein was ill and unable to attend the meeting, but was “listening in on her sick bed” and had emailed him to say she approved of the purposed conditions which would require the court to keep open 11 courtrooms that had been identified for closure and reduce the number of staff layoffs, submit a written report every six months on the use of the funds provided, and repay the $2.5 million, without interest, within five years.
The council unanimously voted to approve the funding subject to these conditions, which will come from a special reserve fund that is part of the Trial Court Improvement Fund, the Judicial Council said in a release. The Improvement Fund was created by Government Code Sec. 77209 and requires a portion of the fund to be set aside and not allocated until after March 15 of each year unless allocated to a court or courts for “urgent needs.”
The chief justice was also quoted in the release as saying the “spirited discussion” at the meeting “reflects the Judicial Council’s unwavering commitment—not to just one group of citizens—but to the entire state of California.”
“Despite false information about the Judicial Council’s intentions and ad hominem attacks on the AOC and the council, we remain vigilant in our obligation to improve the administration of justice for all Californians,” she said.
The Alliance of California Judges also issued a statement Friday supporting Feinstein’s rejection of the more onerous terms that were proposed to the Judicial Council as conditions for providing emergency funding.
“These conditions would have been an improper usurpation of the independent constitutional authority of a local trial court and presiding judge,” the alliance said, and “demonstrates why the current funding mechanisms for our trial courts are a failure, and why the Alliance has urged fundamental reform.”
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company