Time is running out for court funding group & Council Meeting Commentary

Posted on February 21, 2013

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February 21, 2013

Dear Members and Others,

The Alliance of California Judges has been following the progress, or lack thereof, of the Trial Court Funding Workgroup appointed by the Governor and the Chief Justice. We attach an article by Courthouse News reporter, Maria Dinzeo, concerning Tuesday’s meeting.

Governor Brown’s appointee and former Chief Deputy Director of the Department of Finance, Diane Cummins, made this observation: “There is that big issue out there of equal access and how does that equate to funding by court and it seems like we’re jumping to recommendations and we don’t have anything to base those recommendations on.”

We note that one of the Chief Justice’s appointees made this statement about allocations: “It’s a political decision that will have to be made by the Governor and the Legislature.” We agree. That is why the Alliance will be urging legislators to approve direct funding to the trial courts, rather than leaving us hostage to the central planners and appointed leaders who have no incentive to embrace common sense reforms.

Directors,
Alliance of California Judges
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California Courts Trying to Slice Smaller Pie
By MARIA DINZEO

SACRAMENTO (CN) – With time running out, a group of judges and state officials appointed by the Chief Justice confronted the problem of allocating sharply reduced funds among California’s 58 trial courts. The process of dividing a smaller financial pie is complicated by a chorus of complaints from individual courts, saying they are underfunded.
“We’re down to our last two-day meeting and we’ve hardly defined funding at all, which is in our workgroup’s name — funding and allocations. The heart of that matter is what will our recommendations be on funding?” said Justice Harry Hull, chair of the Trial Court Funding Workgroup.”We have to approach what we’re doing now on the assumption that things aren’t going to get any better very soon,” Hull urged. “We need to fold that into how do we deal with where we are now. Hopefully that will change, but we can’t afford not to be realists.”

After five hours of discussion, the committee consensus was to meet next month and decide on recommendatinos for allocating funds among courts that span the length and width of the state.In November last year, Governor Jerry Brown and Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye ordered the group to evaluate whether the judiciary was meeting the goals of the 1997 Lockyer-Isenberg Trial Court Funding Act, landmark legislation that transferred control of local court funds and policy to a central bureaucracy.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the group examined the Resource Allocation Model from 2005, a method of determining how many employees courts need to handle their caseloads. This model has also been used to figure out which courts are under-resourced. Former Chief Deputy Director of Finance Diane Cummins said she was concerned that the committee did not have the proper analysis to make funding recommendations. “I don’t think we’ve seen an analysis of the data to lead us to understand where we are vis-a-vis the governor’s and chiefs request of the committee looking at how we’ve met the goals,” said Cummins. “There is that big issue out there of equal access and how does that equate to funding by court and it seems like we’re jumping to recommendations and we don’t have anything to base those recommendations on.”

“We’ve seen some information by court but it’s just data points it’s not analysis,” Cummins added. “I’m struggling with how we’re getting to the next step.” The group looked favorably on a new budget process presented by Presiding Judge Laurie Earl of Sacramento that would take into account each court’s staffing, equipment, technology and program costs. It also adds a special component that allows courts to request ongoing or one-time funding for a cost unique to that court.

“One example is geography,” said Earl. “Those who have regional courts have different needs. Some courts may have a complex litigation department which requires additional staff. One court may have a high profile case that requires additional security. Courts would submit a request and provide justification for additional funding.” She added that the state’s presiding judges, who worked alongside its court executive officers in developing the new budget method, are still setting up criteria for the request process. “We’re going to have to make some value judgments,” said committee member Angela Davis. “Almost all the courts in the state could make the case that they’re underfunded. So what is underfunded, what is severely underfunded and what is intolerably underfunded? Even in the reallocation process, the final step of distributing to courts in unique situations, I can see a lot of disagreement as to what’s a unique factor that warrants some kind of special allocation.”

Presiding Judge David Rosenberg, also a committee member, added, “We’re dealing with two big questions. What is a better system of allocation? That’s the big elephant in the room. The other is somehow the funding for the judicial system is too low, so arguably all courts have a disparity. But I’m not sure this group is charged with that issue. We have to deal with the funding as it exists. It’s a political decision that will have to be made by the Governor and the Legislature.”

The group will meet for the final time at the end of March, and in April is expected to present its funding recommendations to the Judicial Council.
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JCW’s Court Funding Working Group & Council Meeting Commentary.

Epic failure are words that come to mind as we’ve carefully charted a marked lack of progress made by the Trial Court Funding Working Group. In our typical fashion, we’re going to be a little bit more to the point and mince few words here. Of the many pieces of anonymous information that just happen to get posted to our private & secure message window is the occasional call-in numbers to various meetings with a description of the meeting provided by good people like you. All sorts of meetings. Keep the invites coming and Thank You. The fact of the matter is that this group could not find anything resembling a tree in a national forest and has to rely on the old tried and true AOC nose ring firmly implanted between their nostrils to lead them to anything resembling a solution. Unfortunately thus far it appears to be a repackaged more of the same as the best that they can come up with.

Now, we’ve at least made the case that some parity can be had in a minor fee, like ten bucks, that can be imposed on every license issued from drivers to business licenses and various permits to completely offset the loss of general fund money and provide a dedicated source of revenue that is an accurate reflection of the population of any community moving forward.  It is something that can be remitted directly to each court by licensing permitting and registration authorities and it would completely bypass the general fund and more importantly, the AOC. It may not be doable in this legislative session without a bill, but it is doable next year if you all get behind it and push. You want independence? This proposal gives you financial independence from the legislature and the judicial council and returns the courts to being a part of the local community rather than some monolith crystal palace in San Francisco.

Our fearless committee does not believe it has the charter to be bold and define a fair source of revenue to fund our woefully underfunded courts. WTF!! If one looks at Judge Earl’s suggestion of looking what a court has now, that’s simply a repackaging of more of the same. As for Judge Rosenberg’s assertions? Rosenberg, it’s time you grow some son and be bold. You do have trial court funding as your freaking charter and funding implies money. If you don’t give the legislature a map, they’re going to give one to you and Yolo isn’t one of those fast growing counties son. 

Is it not a good idea because we thought of it? Is it not a good idea because you’ll never get a fee increase by a supermajority of liberals? Who among you wouldn’t want to pay ten bucks on your license or registration or permit to support your local court? We’re not talking about increasing vehicle registrations by hundreds of dollars a year each ala Governor Davis, we’re talking about something like ten bucks!

The State Department of Finance issued their projections on population growth and the Sacramento Bee was kind enough to make that chart interactive so that you could see the projected growth and there needs to be a funding mechanism that does not exist today to address this. Relying on the general fund, legislative priorities or current funding mechanisms is a train wreck and in counties like San Joaquin, Fresno and San Bernardino we’re seeing that train wreck happening today. Stable revenue that reflects population is the only way to go but you need to draw the other two branches a map and prove it. It’s high time for some of Governor Brown’s realignment, this time for trial court funding and some additional fees imposed on potential users, not just scofflaws, to assist courts in charting the right course. I would also toss in a caveat in that funding mechanism that says if anyone in any court makes more than the Governor, that court gives up 1% of their budget to the AOC for at least if you’re going to blow money, you can do it in style.

Now on to the bloodbath that is Jahr’s report of AOC activities

The report(linked here) of activities is more of the same with the typical AOC sleight of hand. For one, they just couldn’t resist the opportunity to congratulate  Jerry Pfab and company on a job well done making new flow charts and developing new processes to get little accomplished.

The AOC’s Facilities Management Unit was recognized by the California Council for excellence in quality management as part of the California Awards for Performance. The council administers the program based on the principles of the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award, honoring both private industry and government organizations for efforts in continuing quality management. 

As the daughter might say gag.me.with.a.spoon!

Hey Hayward, does it still rain buckets and garbage cans inside the building when it rains? Yup, I thought so.

But that’s a fine example of continuing quality management. If you start dead last, any movement is progress on the road to continuing quality management, no?

Then we have this kind on the taxpayer missive about advisory groups to which we say, it’s about time.

Advisory committees will hold only one in-person meeting per year until the fiscal situation improves. Other meetings will be convened using video- or audio-conferencing.

Welcome to the twenty first century. Webex is your friend.

Then this.

Advisory Committee on Financial Accountability and Efficiency for the Judicial Branch:
• Approved the pending audit report for the Superior Court of Los Angeles County for consideration by the Judicial Council at its February business meeting.
Discussed the pending audit report of the AOC Facilities Management Unit—a compliance audit of management and maintenance services contracts from 2006 through 2011—          with the chair and vice-chair of the Trial Court Facilities Modification Working Group.

In essence, a compliance audit during the entire time when many in the AOC knew for a fact that they were contracting with and overpaying multiple unlicensed contractors that could not provide contractors state license numbers to AOC employees. Let someone independent do the audit like the contractors state licensing board and Pfab and company get walking papers guaranteed. Let’s see what our dear friend Justice Huffman comes up with. I’m sure he’ll have them smelling as fine as a rose and all was proper, cheap and efficient. 

I’m reminded of the letter from Judge Kennelly and how the good judge has drawn a path to salvation with his point here. Yet we fully expect more damnation for the branch as a whole when it’s all swept under the rug and will serve as another notch in a future rico indictment. Frankly, I could go on for days about this report but I’ll spare you the anguish. Over a hundred and fifty people throughout the AOC produce these reams of useless information, put it under the nose of everyone else and tell them to endorse it -or worse- make a choice between three bad choices. Which brings us to our last exorcism of the damned.

For years we’ve observed and marked occasion where we believe that the AOC continues to lead the judicial council and the rest of the branch. One of the more nefarious ways this is done is in the materials provided to judicial council members. The council members in turn review the materials and toss the two that are by far perceived to be the worst of the three recommendations and are typically left with the remaining choice.

The challenge is that sometimes, all three choices are bad choices and they choose the least of the worst without considering choices other than what is on the agenda, which is the AOC’s agenda.

Case in point, the AOC reclassification study, commissioned by AOC management of course….(the link is here)

1. What option would you choose either on this agenda or off this agenda?

2. What do you believe the end result will be a year from now?

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Nathanial Woodhull’s observations on the TCFWG:

A new link is in order to discuss the goingson with the Trial Court Funding Workgroup. This band of the ill-equiped are likely to cause more damage to our Branch than all the prior acts of HRH-1, HRH-2 and their sychophants.

Governor Brown’s liason to the re-allocation process, Former Chief Deputy of Finance Diane Cummins, observed that the “committee” cobbled together by the current Chief, didn’t have a clue.

When the Lockyer-Isenberg Trial Court Funding Act was put into place, a formulary was established for funding local trial courts. Many trial courts were not happy with that formulary, that used funding from 1996 as a basis. All of us, even those who opposed or supported the consolidation of the trial courts and State Trial Court Funding, were told at the time, and in years thereafter, in absolute and no uncertain terms, that the established formulary would not be altered.

I have zero faith in those on this Committee, their lack of business acumen, lack of financial insights, and inability to understand that it is important to be accountable when spending the public’s money. As a result, I believe that you will see a new system “dictated” by the Executive Branch and approved by the Legislative Branch that will really hurt the entirety of the Judicial Branch.

I really wish it was 1996 again…Even during the Great Depression we never saw what we are seeing now. When Proposition 13 passed, local politicians said the sky would fall, yet the trial courts endured. I understand that there were some smaller courts that may have needed supplemental funding due to local shortages in revenue; however the introduction of the one-siz fits all system that was put into place under the Lockyer-Isenberg legislation has helped no one except those within the Crystal Palace. What I see coming will be even more devastating. It is almost as if they are willing it to happen, so that one of the consequences will be that there is so little money flowing to local trial courts, those courts will be unable to maintain local administrations and control. Thus what HRH-1 couldn’t achieve directly, HRH-2 will inherit by having dismantled the entire operation.

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Other News-

1. JCW’s host organization will soon be moving HQ and suddenly its become a toss-up between the cities of Pleasanton and San Ramon and they’re soliciting everyone’s’ opinion including yours. If you have an opinion of one over the other feel free to drop us a line.

2. We’re going to be adding a page called legislative watch to the tabs up top. Look for it soon.

3. Due in part to being crosslinked to thousands of other sites and stories elsewhere and having other links broken by hushmail when they’re not fixed after posting, we’re subject to broken links, deleted videos, changed web pages and our own mistakes. If you find a page that has a broken link or a deleted video, please by all means notify us by  dropping us a note so we can fix it. Thanks!