Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Access Commission Opposes AB1208, Cites Effect on ‘Vulnerable Populations’
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A statewide collaborative commission of judges, lawyers, and civic leaders has come out against AB1208.
The bill, which was introduced by last year, must pass the Assembly by Jan. 31 or else it dies for this year under legislative rules. Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Industry, sponsored the measure, which proposes increasing administrative and financial autonomy for trial courts.
Third District Court of Appeal Justice Ronald Robie and Los Angeles attorney Joanne Caruso, who are chair and vice-chair of the California Commission on Access to Justice, sent a letter to Calderon objecting to the passage of his bill on Thursday in which they asserted, “AB1208 will have the unintended effect of reducing access to the courts for the most vulnerable populations in the state that has been shaped in recent years by the Judicial Council.”
They praised the “visionary leadership” of the council for “creating a true single statewide branch of government,” which has allowed “many advances in the past 15 years improving access to our judicial system for some of California’s most vulnerable residents.”
Robie, a former Judicial Council member, and Caruso wrote that the commission “is concerned about returning to the times when a lack of access to the courts was common, as was true before trial court unification and state trial court funding were established.”
In particular, they said they feared AB1208 could undermine funding for self-help centers and services for litigants with limited English proficiency, the uniformity of local rules and procedures, and support for developing statewide “best practices.”
Local courts “dealing with many other legitimate demands on scarce resources,” and with the autonomy to make “difficult fiscal, programmatic and administrative decisions,” could decide to cut programs assisting the poor and underrepresented as a cost-savings measure, Robie and Caruso warned, since these “are easy targets in such an environment….”
Additional opposition to AB1208 came last week from the presiding judges from 42 of California’s 58 trial courts, who joined the chairman of the Trial Court Presiding Judge Advisory Committee in signing a letter against the proposed measure.
Support for Calderon’s legislation continues to come from the Alliance of California Judges, which on Friday solicited members to “redouble your efforts” in contacting lawmakers and advocating for AB 1208’s passage.
The alliance directors, in a mass email, acknowledged the presiding judges’ letter, but pointed our that “they did not purport to speak for their courts.”
Those who signed the letter, the alliance noted, comprise less than three percent of the state’s trial court judges, “and even if they spoke for every member of their courts—which they do not—they would not represent half of the state’s judges.”
“We remain convinced that AB 1208 is strongly favored by judges, whether those judges publicly voice their support or not,” the directors said.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company