Tuesday, December 24, 2002
Judge Says Losses Will Mount on Delayed Filing Fee Increase
By a MetNews Staff Writer
San Bernardino County stands to lose about $100,000 each month if the Board of Supervisors delays implementing an expanded civil filing fee to fund courthouse construction, Presiding Judge J. Michael Welch said yesterday.
Action by the board was required before Assembly Bill 2022, authored by John Longville (D-Rialto), could be implemented. Longville’s bill repealed Senate Bill 35, which passed in 1999 and opened the door for the courts to add the $35 surcharge to civil cases in which the amount in dispute exceeded $25,000.
The Longville bill allowed supervisors to extend the filing fee to cases in which the amount in dispute was less than $25,000, but supervisors last week postponed implementing the extension.
The fee was initially proposed to provide a funding stream for repairs to or replacement of San Bernardino’s earthquake-vulnerable Central Courthouse. The fee has thus far generated about $2.6 million, which has been placed in a Courthouse Construction fund. The expanded fee is expected to generate an additional $1.1 to $2 million annually.
The 76-year-old courthouse was identified in a 1996 seismic study as presenting 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 the additional potential for damage to the courthouse annex, which was added in the late 1950s.
Welch said a plan to retrofit the courthouse is already in place, but plans to relocate court functions during the construction are not yet finalized. He said a building at Third and Arrowhead Avenues in San Bernardino, which at one time housed the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Div. Two, is being considered.
The building, he said, is big enough to house not only existing court functions, but supporting agencies, such as public lawyers, as well.
But the law allows the courthouse construction funds to be used for other courthouse facilities, not just the Central Courthouse.
The board previously directed its staff to prepare a plan explaining plans for the use of the additional courthouse construction fee revenue, and that plan has not yet been completed. In its recommendation to the board, the County Administrative Office recommended the fee expansion be postponed until that report is completed and presented to the board.
Welch speculated that supervisors expect to see plans to address courthouse facilities issues in each of their individual districts before they will agree to implement the additional fee.
“I think they want to say the bill shouldn’t be used just for the Central Courthouse,” he said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company