Funding the Judicial Branch in FY 13-14 and beyond

Posted on January 6, 2013


Raising funds to fund the courts

The whole theory of this post isn’t going to set well with our more conservative bretheren but it is something that needs to be discussed and that is raising funds specifically to fund the court system.  A couple of days ago Curt Soderlund indicated to the Daily Journal that the courts should get a greater share of the fines imposed. That my brain pickled friend is a conflict of interest that must be avoided at all costs. The pressure on our judges and commissioners to act as tax collectors for court construction and court operations must come to an end for the common man can never be left to question the motives of the judiciary for the sake of its own preservation as an institution.

By any account our judicial branch funding mechanisms are all messed up. We get money from a myriad of sources and have become greatly reliant upon the other two branches, politics and lobbying for our funding. We get a a little bit of this and a little bit of that that serves to supplement the system, yet we don’t have all of the funding necessary to properly fund the fundamentals.  And frankly while our leadership touts the independence of the judiciary, they also tout all of the other agencies that will benefit every time a fine or fee is levied.

Our funding as individual trial courts must be solidified and made less fluid. Our funding as a branch, where those that are accountable to no one does the lobbying, collects the money and makes the decisions for everyone else must be brought to an end. Towards that end, we want you to join us in mapping out funding mechanisms that would:

1) Place our trial courts on a fully staffed, solid financial footing so that they may best serve our customers

2) Keep the buildings secure, maintained and get us new buildings as they need them

3) Embrace the modern efficiencies of reliable technology without creating additional boondoggles.

4) Do all of these things in a transparent and accountable way where everyone knows what we’re getting and people are fired for grand screw-ups.

Some of the ways that this can be accomplished, in fact, probably the most realistic way that this can be accomplished is through the same fee assessments that riddle a 25.00 citation into a 250.00 bail amount. Except that “justice system fees” are imposed upon licenses and registrations of all types without exception. Some industries whose business models have them frequenting the courts more often might be paying higher fees. A few examples here might be any business that extends credit is going to have more court activity than any business that accepts cash or credit cards. The insurance industry utilizes the court system to both resist and settle claims.  Corporations and LLC’s create veils of limited liability that makes a dispute more expensive and protracted in the court system.

The general idea of this post is to come up with the approximate 4 billion dollars that it costs to run our courts without placing the courts themselves in a position of conflicting interests, such as convictions for cash, for the independence of the judiciary is reliant at least in part on independence from having to raise cash from infraction convictions.

Everything, including current FTA and FTP fees is also on the table.

An example here might be: A 10.00 per year fee on 26 million drivers licenses and ID cards would produce 260 million per year in revenue. A similar 10.00 fee for all other types of licensing, business, corporate, professional or otherwise would add another 210 million per year and raise a half-billion dollars. Add a 10.00 fee to registration of every vehicle or vessel for every year would produce about 310 million.

Does the type of business you engage in extend or arrange credit here in california? Auto dealers, insurance companies, banks, utilities, loans of any type and any company that provides financing is reliant upon our court system to enforce those financing contracts via a judgment.  In many cases, the person selling the product or arranging the financing must also have a professional license.

Insurance agents, realtors, and automobile salesperson licenses are but a few examples. Since all of these entities would be reliant upon the court system to ensure their livelihood, it isn’t outlandish to have these kinds of businesses pay a combination of fees in such a manner that the incentive is to keep the jobs in California.

For example, an auto dealer might pay a hundred dollar fee for each location and for each licensed member of its sales staff. Each licensed member would also pay a hundred dollar fee. An insurance company or a realty company or a mortgage loan consultant or any other financial product consultant would pay the same 100.00 fee. These fees would also be levied against both law offices and their staff of attorneys. It is difficult to ascertain what kinds of “Justice System Fees” would be levied in total but we can see that just the state bar total of attorneys would raise about 18 million dollars per year. When one adds the firm fees, that doubles the amount. Make reinstatement fees onerous and they’ll pay their fair share.

Is the type of business you are engaged in formed for the purposes of limiting liability, such as a corporation or an LLC? Then you too can count on paying a hundred dollar a year fee for doing business in California and using our court system. Again, it is difficult to ascertain at the brainstorming phase how much money such a fee would raise but it is not an insignificant sum.

Everything that is insured – the insurance industry and every insured person is reliant upon the court system to both resist and make claims. It would not be outlandish to charge a 10.00 per term of a year or less policy fee for each insurance policy written and for each insured item. This would apply to everything but health insurance. Boats, cars, buildings, workers compensation, etc.

Appearance fees for court: Do you wish to appear before a judge? Pay a 10.00 fee. Pay a 10.00 court structure sustainability fee too.

unsigned parking tickets: Pay a 10.00 fee. How much would this raise?

Doing our part

Doing our part must include simple things like erasing historical underfunding. Like limiting the salaries of court executives to no more than the governor. Like insuring that the top 30 people at the AOC all make fair contributions to their retirement. Like moving the AOC to Sacramento and giving everyone a 5% haircut on their pay. Like democratizing the judicial council and the council’s committee memberships to be representative of the whole system and not just appointees that are following the script of their appointer.

Other ideas about doing our part are welcome.

Are you ready to brainstorm our justice system out of its current hole? Then let’s get to it!