Tuesday, September 9, 2003
George Says Tax Refunds Should Be Intercepted for Fines
By a MetNews Staff Writer
California’s chief justice called Saturday for federal legislation to allow the state to intercept the federal refunds of taxpayers who owe delinquent state court fines.
Delivering his annual “State of the Judiciary” address at the State Bar Annual Meeting in Anaheim, Chief Justice Ronald M. George said the system already in place for seizing refunds to satisfy back child support should be expanded to apply to fines. He estimated the amount of uncollected court-ordered penalties nationwide at $5 billion or more—possibly, he added, “quite a bit” more.
George, who is president of the national Conference of Chief Justices, said that group has endorsed such legislation.
He also announced plans to convene a “working group including bar and court leaders to take a fresh look at what we can do to promote the long-term stability of court funding.” This year, he noted, devastating cuts in court funding were narrowly averted through the efforts of the state’s Judicial Council, the State Bar, and supportive legislators.
“We must ensure that providing adequate funds for the administration of justice happens as a matter of course, in good years and in bad, and not after an annual struggle with uncertain odds,” George declared.
George said that while the impact of the cuts had been reduced, the state budget as passed will require $85 million in trial court cost reductions, $8.5 million in cuts for the appellate courts, the Judicial Council, the Administrative Office of the Courts, and the Habeas Corpus Resource Center, and a reduction of $11 million in court security costs. It has yet to be determined where these cuts will be made, the chief justice said.
George said the court system should not have to depend on the income it generates to survive.
“Fees, fines, and penalties have a place in court funding. But courts cannot and should not be expected to fund themselves. A fully functioning and accessible system of justice is essential not only for those who appear at the courthouse door, but for all of society. Every Californian, not just those who enter the courthouse doors, should be considered a direct user and beneficiary of the judicial system.”
The chief justice added:
“Courts must be considered and treated as part of the critical infrastructure of government, not as a pay-as-you-go enterprise whose fortunes ebb and flow with ‘consumer demand.’”
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company