The May Revise – 4 months to make a difference

Posted on January 13, 2013

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The May revise remains an opportunity to move the ball down field. Governor Brown presented to the judicial branch a challenging budget scenario that would require the branch to take an additional 200 million out of the general fund when what the branch really needs is to secure an additional 200 million if we are to have any meaningful, credible civil justice system left in this state. If we’re to follow the lead as presented by the Chief Justice, then it will be another year before reorganization should be completed and purportedly right-size the AOC.

Does it appear to you that either the Judicial Council or the AOC are headed in the right direction yet? 

To anyone who had been privy to things like the telephone directory at the AOC over the past couple of years, you might have noticed a change in titles and a few names missing but the entrenched management running that circus remains entrenched management, changing only their titles as a result of their current reorg. Positions eliminated by the AOC amount to positions that were never filled to begin with. Additionally, some of the brighter people who could gain other employment elsewhere because they have marketable skills and see the writing on the wall have left the AOC or retired.

Some have advocated and continue to advocate that it should be traffic scofflaws that pay the price for this system while permitting those convicted of more serious crimes to endure incarceration in lieu of writing a check. Still yet, there are those that rely upon our justice system so infrequently that they don’t recognize that it won’t be there when they need it to redress a grievance.  Something that I don’t think Brown’s budget is considering is the pending avalanche of litigation that will overwhelm the courts related to home foreclosures. Foreclosures haven’t dropped all that much in California’s hardest hit counties. As a result of the tax forgiveness expiring on short sales and foreclosures on January 1, there are going to be citizens that will be seeking the refuge of these new laws  in part to avoid the federal tax burden of losing their homes.

A stable funding source for the judicial branch is a funding source that is fair and equitable to every court.  A few of the courts most challenged are waiting for the other shoe to drop expecting that the counties will end their maintenance of efforts payments because there has been minimal or no maintenance of effort. Some would argue that it is the legislature that has gone back on their word to continue the maintenance of effort and others would argue that it was the judicial council themselves that diverted hundreds of million of dollars to boondoggles  and sustained its own costly operations at the expense of the local courts that has resulted in a diminished maintenance of effort.  Their current proposal would have them diverting over a million dollars per court to pay for the Long Beach project, yet the historic Markleeville courthouse remains incapable of adding a space heater under someones’ desk without creating a fire hazard or blowing out the buildings power.

It is time to discuss a different kind of justice system realignment. One that has identified a stable funding source that can organically grow local courts as population shifts to inland areas. In many of these locales the per capita budget has dropped dramatically as maintenance of efforts payments were pegged to far smaller populations and remain unchanged. Imposing cuts on these already strapped courts has all but eliminated the civil justice system and when that’s eliminated, uncivil justice has a tendency of filling the void. Perhaps the discussion should be about exchanging maintenance of efforts payments provided by the county for state funding that goes to the counties before the have nots have even less.

What is clear is that this grand experiment of appointing a judicial council to govern has been a catastrophic failure that must change sooner, rather than later. They are in service to the Chief Justice, not the courts and certainly not you, dear reader. The SEC recommendations should ALL be implemented sooner than next year yet we can see that as they deliberate recommendations, they also eliminate recommendations. Certain programs that have been abused must be eliminated and the AOC management must be given walking papers and have their budget reduced dramatically. We have but four months to raise approximately 400 million from current  budget projections. Without that 400 million, the branch stands to lose tens of millions of dollars more in maintenance of effort payments in the locales that are discussing these matters.

A full quarter of that 400 million should come from the judicial council’s budgetary line-item with the balance being in a new revenue source that can be altered by changing demographics and does not amount to convictions for cash.

Ideas anyone?