Monday, August 29, 2011
Council Rejects Proposal for Complex Litigation Fees
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Judicial Council Friday rejected a proposal to authorize new fees in complex litigation cases as a way of making up part of the $350 million budget reduction in the judicial branch budget.
While several council members expressed sympathy for the proposal by the Bar Association of San Francisco to amend the Rules of Court to authorize trial courts to establish a new fee for the appearance of each attorney at a case management conference in a complex civil case, the proposal was rejected by a vote of 16-1.
The council acted on the recommendation its of general counsel, who said it was extremely likely that a reviewing court would strike down the fee as unauthorized by statute. The two council members who sit on the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and Justice Marvin Baxter, recused themselves from the discussion and vote, citing the possibility that the legality of any such fee might come before the court.
The council—whose meeting was broadcast live on the Internet—did, however, agree to study the possibility of new fees as a means of offsetting budget cuts in the trial court. The council declared restoration of trial court funding to be its top budget priority for the current fiscal year.
The council must submit its budget change proposalswill to the state Department of Finance by Sept. 12.
In a related development Friday, Ronald Overholt, the soon-to-be interim administrative director of the courts, informed the council that he had met with Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein and Executive Officer T. Michael Yuen of the San Francisco Superior Court about a possible short-term solution to that court’s funding crisis, using Administrative Office of the Courts reserve funds.
While Overholt described the meeting as “cordial,” Yuen told the MetNews Friday that his court’s situation—it has announced plans to lay off 40 percent of its staff, including subordinate judicial officers—had not changed.
“We’ve made known we have a $6.2 million deficit,” he explained. “What they have offered doesn’t add up to $6.2 million.”
Friday marked the last Judicial Council meeting of William Vickrey’s tenure as adminsitrative director. The chief justice, congratulating Vickrey on his retirement, reiterated an announcement made at a retirement dinner Thursday night, saying the council would be renaming both its leadership award and its conference center for Vickrey.
In other action, the council:
•Authorized two positions for subordinate judicial officers at the Superior Court of San Bernardino Court, in accordance with Government Code Sec. 71622(a). The council said these positions will improve access to justice in San Bernardino, which has a court workload for subordinate judicial officers that exceeds its current authorized SJOs plus a demonstrated need for more judicial officers. These positions will replace two existing hearing officer positions in the court; the court will pay for the cost out of its budget.
•Approved proposed fiscal year 2012–2013 budget requests for the Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal, trial courts, and Judicial Council/Administrative Office of the Courts. A priority of the budget requests will be to seek restoration of judicial branch funding in the current fiscal year.
•Approved the allocation of $17.689 million in operational funding and $1.149 million in court security–related funding contained in the Budget Act of 2011 (Stats. 2011, ch. 33). This will address the increased workload of the trials court as a result of the passage of the Criminal Justice Realignment Act of 2011.
•Approved a recommendation to allocate $7.4 million to trial courts for the replacement of personal computers and printers, and also authorizes courts to redirect these funds to offset the impact of budget reductions this fiscal year, as deemed necessary by each court. The council has the statutory authority to allocate funding from statewide special funds for projects and programs that support the trial courts.
•At the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Financial Accountability and Efficiency for the Judicial Branch, accepted four audit reports on the financial practices and operations of the Superior Courts of Amador, Imperial, Inyo, and Sonoma Counties. The council said this complies with the policy approved last year that specifies Judicial Council acceptance of audit reports as the last step to finalizing the reports, before they are posted to the California Courts public Web site.
•Adopted a Judicial Branch Contracting Manual that addresses the procurement of goods and services by judicial branch entities effective October 1, 2011, and that the AOC continue to collaborate with a working group and present any additional proposed amendments to the manual to the council for consideration in December. Public Contract Code Sec. 19206 requires the council to adopt a manual that sets forth policies and procedures that are consistent with the code and substantially similar to the provisions contained in the State Administrative Manual and the State Contracting Manual.
•Approved a budget of $30 million for statewide court facility modifications and planning in fiscal year 2011–2012, which reflects the current legislatively authorized funds for this purpose. The majority of the funding approved, $22.5 million, will cover unplanned disruptions and emergencies in court facilities, such as fires and floods. The council also adopted a prioritized list of facility modifications, which ranks hundreds of needed facility modifications according to their relative criticality and necessity.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company