ACJ Press Release: Another 150 million in unallocated budget cuts….

Posted on June 15, 2011

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Press Release from the Alliance of California Judges

 
Dear Members and Others:
 
Today the Legislature is expected to pass a budget that includes an additional $150.0 million cut to trial court operations.  The Legislative Analyst’s Office has previously projected that this additional cut will close our trial courts two days per month in the next fiscal year.  We hope that the outcome of this reduction is less drastic than predicted, but our trial courts are once again suffering a serious and unsustainable loss of services to the public.
 
There are few, if any, remaining resources to backfill this cut with any more ‘one time’ solutions.
 
We have repeatedly asked the Chief Justice and the Judicial Council to embrace certain basic reforms in the face of this financial crisis, and we reiterate them here.
 
All funds appropriated by the legislature for local trial court operations, in whatever amount, must be fully delivered to the trial courts without reduction or reserve. 
 
This remains the basic premise of AB 1208.  The Judicial Council should commit to this principle whether or not the legislation is enacted.
 
This means that trial court operating funds must no longer be used to advance CCMS.  The branch cannot afford this project at this time without dedicated funding.  CCMS should be delivered to the courts using it, to be implemented upon local servers for those courts, and the continued maintenance of that product should be managed by each of those courts within their own operating budget.  In this way, the CCMS product will be preserved for future further development and deployment when the Legislature makes specific funds available, beyond current operating needs.  All other expenditure for development and deployment should be suspended.
 
Revenue reductions must be allocated so that statewide administrative expenses are reduced to the barest minimum in order that trial court operations are least impacted. The AOC has previously proposed a disproportionate $20 million cut to the trial courts arising from the Governor’s original $200.0 million general fund reduction.  The AOC and Judicial Council have a budget of $142.0 million and the Court Facilities Program has a budget of $228.0 million.  So far, the AOC has only proposed an $8.0 million reduction to the general revenue portion ($99.0 million) of its own budget. 
 
We can no longer afford a top heavy administration where, unlike judges and most court employees, the top 30 executives of the AOC who earn from approximately $140,000 to $217,000 per year, make no personal contribution to their retirement plan.  We are requesting the immediate public disclosure of the line item budgets for the Judicial Council and AOC comprising a budget of $142.0 million (Judicial Branch Budget program 250.30) and the $228.0 million budget for the Court Facilities Program (Judicial Branch Budget program 250.35) which have so far not been made available. Public disclosure of these detailed budgets will allow every judge of the state and other interested stakeholders to participate and make meaningful recommendations.  There is absolutely no reason that these budgets should be secret.
 
We also suggest that all remaining available funds from the Modernization Fund and the Trial Court Improvement Fund be diverted to trial court operations.
The time is long overdue for the judicial branch to embrace a democratic trial court governance model.  These problems are too great, and our trial court system is too vast, complex, and diverse, for decisions to be made by an elite, centralized, appointed structure.  We urge the Judicial Council to promptly convene a gathering of peer-elected trial court representative judges from each trial court to discuss and then advise the Judicial Council regarding the allocation of these extraordinary budget cuts. Our Alliance has already proposed examples of how this could be accomplished.   
 
The Alliance of California Judges remains committed to these basic concepts.  
 
Very truly yours,
The Directors of the Alliance of California Judges

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Commentary from JCW:

Our first question: What is the CJA’s solution to this crisis? **pin drop**

While we knew from other sources that this was coming down the pipeline, we would have hoped that by demonstrating fiscal prudence that the AOC would have absorbed much of the previous two hundred million dollars of cuts themselves.

Unfortunately, they did not and this caught the ire of many in Sacramento. Just as King George tried to ‘Send a message to Sacramento’ by closing the courts one day per week for negiligble savings they ended up awarding to some of their highest paid AOC employees, Sacramento is now sending a message to the AOC.

That message? Cut your AOC bloat, lose your $429.00 clock batteries, CCMS and reorganize into a smaller organization or more cuts are on the way. While the AOC could lobby the state legislature to return all 300 million dollars that the AOC paid the unlicensed contractors or even consider transforming the matter into a false claims case, the AOC is unwilling to admit a 300 million dollar mistake. Rather, the first figures we heard were 14 million. Then someone cried foul and we saw that amount jump to 42 million. Then someone cried foul again and the amount stands at 42 million for a 300 million dollar frack-up.

In our opinion, all 150 million dollars of these cuts should come from the central bureaucracy. They then can rely on their litigation to restore these lost funds. If they are unwilling to take it on the chin, we would suggest lobbying for ALLOCATED budget cuts from the legislature to the AOC specifically de-funding programs (like CCMS) and mothballing courthouse construction projects.

One of the reasons it would be a good idea to mothball some court construction projects is that there were so many currently rammed into the ‘honeymoon’ pipeline in December 2010 that the final products will suffer greatly. 

AOC professionals have inadequate time and resources for design reviews. While they might dispute this, try to get them to sign off and certify sound design in each design phase by AOC engineers and architects. Make them own their work. It will never happen.  

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Released from the Chief Justice @9:30AM-

This budget proposal is devastating and crippling to the judicial branch and to the public it serves. Courts have taken massive reductions over the past few years, and already took $200 million in reductions for next year.

Courts affect every part of our state’s life — including convicting criminals and freeing the innocent; enhancing public safety; enforcing contracts; providing a forum for resolving business disputes; and protecting children, the elderly, consumers, the environment — in short, protecting the people’s rights.

With these cuts courts cannot provide these fundamental services or protect the rights of Californians. By marginalizing the courts, California strikes a blow against justice.

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JCW: Yep. And that is why the AOC should absorb the brunt of these cuts so that the AOC does not continue to strike blows against justice.

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Press Release from Judge Maryanne Gilliard, Sacramento Superior Court

This cut appears to reflect the Legislatures belief that our Branch must have extra funds available since we continue to expend great resources on the maligned and troubled CCMS project.
 
When our Branch leaders publicly advocate for CCMS and continue to fund CCMS notwithstanding the scathing audit released in February, what is the Legislature to think? Our leaders need to come to terms with the reality that the Legislature controls the purse strings. Publicly challenging the Legislature’s authority and duty to oversee the expenditure of public dollars has not been a wise or prudent course. Nor has it gone unnoticed that during this fiscal crisis the Judicial Branch has handed out pay raises and spiked the pension benefits of those earning over $100,000.
 
Under these circumstances, this cut should not have been a surprise. Hopefully this action by the Legislature will cause our branch leaders to change course and embrace fiscal policies that reflect in practice that our first priority be keeping our local courthouses open to the public.
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Maria Dizneo of Courthouse News – California Legislature blindsides court bureaucracy with huge cut

Cheryl Miller – Legalpad Blog

(We couldn’t have been the only media organization to have known for over a week that this was on the table….)