Monday, July 25, 2011
Judicial Council Allocates $350 Million in Funding Cuts
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Judicial Council Friday approved committee recommendations allocating $350 million in cuts ordered by the Legislature for the fiscal year that began July 1.
The plan will cut funding for the trial courts by 6.7 percent, the California Supreme Court and Court of Appeal by 9.7 percent, and the Judicial Council and Administrative Office of the Courts. It will delay for one year the implementation of the controversial Central Case Management System.
The council, however, put off a decision on a recommended 15.2 percent across-the-board cut for next year. The delay was unanimously agreed to on a motion by Third District Court of Appeal Justice Harry Hull.
Among those voicing support for the delay was retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Terry Friedman, an advisory member, who noted that various proposals for a statewide vote on new revenue measures are in the formative stages.
The council rejected a proposal by Los Angeles Superior Court Assistant Presiding Judge David Wesley that would have given immediate help to the trial courts by diverting more than $200 million from other sources, including courthouse construction and CCMS.
Only Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Burt Pines joined Wesley in voting for the proposal, although many members said they wished they could do more for trial courts.
While discussions were generally cordial during the meeting, it was clear that the controversy over CCMS is not going to abate anytime soon.
During the public comment period at the beginning of the public meeting, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Katherine Feinstein—who confirmed last week that her court intends to close 25 of its 63 courtrooms and lay off 40 percent of its staff, including all but one of its subordinate judicial officers—accused the council of “feeding this technological beast with trial court trust funds.”
Rather than forcing courtrooms to close and staff to be laid off, she said, “let the counties that want [CCMS] pay for it.”
Feinstein also expressed gratitude to colleagues around the state who have been calling to commiserate about the impact of what she called the “staggeringly inadequate state budget.” But she said she was “stunned that neither I nor our executive officer…has received a phone call from any member of the Administrative Office of the Courts.”
But Ventura Superior Court Presiding Judge Vincent O’Neill Jr. encouraged the council to stand by CCMS, the early components of which have been operating successfully in his court for more than four years, he said. “We believe it can be the case management system for California,” he told the council, emphasizing the “the.”
San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall told the council that CCMS is critical to his court, which he described as “a dying patient.” A statewide, centralized computer system, he said, is “vital to delivering access to justice.”
His court, he said, is getting by with a system that, after 27 years old, is “older than most of the IT people who service it.” At one point, he said, it was down for two weeks, and “our staff is afraid it will not come back up if it fails again.”
First District Court of Appeal Justice Terence L. Bruiniers, chair of the council’s California Case Management System Executive Committee, insisted that “CCMS works.” The system, he said, has is expected to be “fully ready for deployment into the trial courts” by the end of next month.
He added that the council had responded to the criticisms of the system by the Bureau of State Audits, and “done everything they’ve asked us to do.”
Charges that CCMS is a failed system are “simply not true,” he said. “It will be a failed system only if we allow it to fail,” he told the council.
Any delay beyond what the council has already approved is problematic, he said, in part because the warranty period for the system will begin to run in September.
In rejecting Wesley’s diversion proposal, the council heeded pleas from members who cited critical courthouse construction needs, several of whom cited health and safety issues.
“If we don’t keep courthouses safe we are not providing justice to our citizens,” Sonoma Superior Court Presiding Judge Gary Nadler said. He is constantly worried, he said, that a judge, employee, or citizen is going to be injured because prisoners have to be brought through public hallways in his courthouse.
Wesley said his proposal would still allow construction projects to proceed, but would prioritize operations. “I disagree with my colleagues that building a new building is as important as keeping a trial court open,” he commented.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company