Friday, February 15, 2002
Two Bills Introduced to Change Courts’ Policies Statewide
By NICK YULICO, Staff Writer
The way the state’s courts report and collect security costs and the role mediators play in family court would dramatically change under two new Senate bills introduced by local state senators this week.
Current ambiguities in the law prevent the courts from properly reporting security costs and fail to clarify whether the state or counties should pick up the tab on certain items, Michael Roddy, a director of the Administrative Office of the Court, said.
SB 1396, by Joseph Dunn, D-Garden Grove, would eliminate that problem by creating a uniform method of determining and calculating court security costs within the judicial branch of the state.
If the bill passes, a uniform system for reporting security costs would be in place throughout the 58 counties, with an estimated price tag of $25 million, Roddy said.
The discrepancies result from AB 233, signed into law in 1997, which capped counties’ funding of the courts and required the state to pick up remaining costs.
But the law doesn’t clearly define the reimbursable costs and who should be paying what, Roddy said.
For example, the law says that equipment is reimbursable, but “what kind of equipment?” Roddy said.
This ambiguity has led to some counties calling uniforms “equipment” and others not, Nick Warner, a director for the California State Sheriffs’ Association, said.
With “58 counties reporting costs in 58 different ways,” a $25 million per year “chasm” opened between sheriffs’ security services and state payments, Warner said.
The counties were left to fill in the holes, Roddy said, and this bill aims to prevent those holes from opening again.
Once the counties are reporting costs in the same way, the long-term goal of better securing the courts will be possible, he added.
SB 1406 aims to change the law governing mediation proceedings for child custody and visitation issues.
Currently, some counties authorize mediators to submit recommendations to the court, even before mediation has finished.
In these counties, a mediator acts as an arbitrator by recommending for example, that one of the parents in a custody fight is better fit for primary custody.
The bill, introduced Wednesday by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Los Angeles, would prohibit any such recommendations by the mediators before the court.
Kuehl’s legislative aide, Syrus Devers, said the purpose of the bill is to have mediators “mediate and not arbitrate.”
Under the new law, mediators could only say whether mediation was working or not, Devers said,
He added that about half of the counties, including Los Angeles County, already have a policy in place barring mediators from acting as arbitrators.
Devers cited an article that he said showed less personnel hours per mediation case in counties barring recommendations by mediators.
“This shows mediation is more successful and cost effective if parties have honest chances to mediate,” Devers said.
And such mediation is fairer, he said.
Under current rules, parents either enter into mediation with the understanding that the mediator can use anything they say in court and they are thus not forthcoming with the mediator, or they enter into meditation unaware of the mediator’s role, ending up “trapped by an admission they wouldn’t make in open court,” Devers said.
“I think either outcome is bad,” he added.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company