Tuesday, September 10, 2002
Davis Signs Bill Expanding Application of $35 Filing Fee Surcharge to More Civil Cases
By J’AMY PACHECO, Staff Writer
San Bernardino’s earthquake-vulnerable Central Courthouse may get a much-needed boost through funding generated by an expanded $35 surcharge on civil filing fees signed into law late last week.
Gov. Gray Davis on Thursday signed legislation that will increase the number of cases subject to the surcharge. The change is expected to generate an additional $1.1 million annually to help fund renovations to the 1926 courthouse.
Assembly Bill 2022, authored by John Longville, D-Rialto, still requires action by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, including a public hearing, to become effective. San Bernardino County’s spokesman could not be reached yesterday for comment, but the issue was not scheduled to be discussed on the board’s agenda this week.
The bill is similar to SB 35, which passed in 1999 and allowed the courts to add a surcharge to some civil filings. That bill called for a $35 filing fee to be imposed on civil cases only when the amount in controversy exceeded $25,000.
The current bill would allow the courts to impose the surcharge on all civil cases, but allows for the fee to be waived if no filing fee is charged.
The initial bill generates $900,000 annually and has raised a total of $1.6 million to date, according to a legislative analysis of the Longville bill. Courthouse renovations are expected to top $11 million.
A 1996 study revealed that the courthouse presents a significant earthquake hazard to court staff and the approximately 4,000 daily users of the building. The report highlighted an increased expectation of significant earthquake activity in the region, and speculated that the building’s four floors were likely to “pancake,” similar to the way the Oakland Freeway fell during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
A subsequent study revealed increased potential for damage to the courthouse annex, which was added in the late 1950s.
If the expanded fee is approved, it is expected to affect an additional 31,500 cases each year.
It also allows the use of the funds for other remodeling unrelated to the seismic retrofit.
Presiding Judge J. Michael Welch was unavailable yesterday, but previously said renovation plans would require courthouse personnel to relocate to other buildings during the construction period.
With the county facing a severe shortage of judicial positions and expecting to eventually receive new judgeships, additional courthouse facilities are needed.
Court officials hope some court functions, such as traffic and small claims courts, could remain outside of the historic courthouse once renovations are complete.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company