At its meeting this Friday, December 12, the Judicial Council will decide its legislative priorities for the coming year. Their Policy Coordination and Liaison Committee recommends that the Council lobby the Legislature for three things:
• Extensions on increases, enacted in 2012, in civil fees ranging from $15 to $450;
• Funding for 10 of 50 currently unfunded judgeships; and
• Increased access to interpreter services.
You can read about the proposed legislative priorities here.(link)
We have no issue with the third priority. We agree that we should do more to make interpreters available to civil litigants. But as much as our branch needs the money, we should think hard about extending the increases in filing fees. If we’re really concerned about access to the justice system, we cannot keep the price of admission high. We note that the Governor recently vetoed a $35 hike in traffic fines for violations in school zones, regarding it as a “regressive increase that affects poor people disproportionately.” Civil fee increases have the same effect.
And as much as we need more judges, we can’t justify more judicial appointments when we don’t have the money to meet our current staffing needs. According to the PCLC’s numbers, it would cost over $14 million to fund ten new judicial positions—this at a time when many judges are operating without staffs, or sharing staffs with other judges. We need to hire more clerks and more court reporters before we create more judgeships.
Any discussion of legislative priorities, however, is pointless if the members of the Legislature aren’t listening to us. And they’re not. Last January, the Chief Justice rolled out her “Blueprint for a Fully Functioning Judicial Branch” to great fanfare. Its call for an increase of $1.2 billion in court funding over three years went unheeded. In a statement she released in June, she said, “[W]e remain focused on our Blueprint.” But at a press conference last Monday, the Chief Justice suggested that the Blueprint should be “renamed,” and conceded that it was now just a “reference document for the judicial branch.”
We have another name for it: It’s a dead letter.
We need to take bold steps to restore credibility to the branch. We need to commit ourselves to reforming our bureaucracy, not just relabeling it. We need to remake the Judicial Council, with its cumbersome apparatus of standing committees, advisory committees, subcommittees, and task forces, into a representative body that takes its oversight role seriously and that truly speaks for the judges it purports to lead. Our pleas for more money will never gain traction until our branch leaders demonstrate a commitment to real reform, and back that commitment with meaningful action.
Very Truly Yours,
Alliance Of California Judges
JCW: We have a few other things to add, like proof.
All over California there are judges who have neither staff nor a courtroom to ply their trade. They’ve been assigned to their chambers to perform administrative tasks or to engage in alternative dispute resolution because they lack the approximate seven bodies that make up a typical courtroom support staff. When you have nearly a hundred judges statewide that have no courtroom and no staff to man the courtroom, it makes no sense whatsoever to fund another ten judges that will have no courtroom or staff. Moreover, when you understand that each judicial position comes with 1.4 million dollars and approximately 750 grand is allocated to preparing a courtroom and you look how this money has been spent in the past, colossal waste is the first thing that comes to mind. Case in point: Contra Costa County.
Contra Costa County was funded with two judicial positions over a period of a couple of years. To facilitate the new courtrooms to accommodate the additional judicial positions, 750,000.00 was allocated per courtroom to ready them for the new judges.
So they took a multipurpose room and divided it into two. In one year that one position was funded, professional engineer Jon Wintermayer who worked for the courts delivered a fully built-out courtroom for a little over 190 grand. A few years later, when the second judicial position was funded, the other half of that multipurpose room was built out. But this time, Jon Wintermayer was not permitted to lead the project and hire his own contractors. Rather, “Team Jacobs” knew that there was 750 grand available for facility modifications and submitted their 750 grand bid to build out the other half of the multipurpose room. When Jon and his boss objected to the expenditure as a waste of funds, both of them were invited to leave the employ of the court.
On top of that, there are 85 judicial vacancies statewide and nearly 26 million was spent last year on things like Judge Jack Halpin’s unelected twenty year reign to the Shasta County bench via the assigned judges program. One of the written public comments that was suppressed by the death star in San Francisco along with all other written public comments was one from Attorney Barbara Kaufmann who spent several days composing an analysis on the needs of additional judgeships. What she was unaware of was the amount of judges working today out of their chambers because they have no court staff. Yet she composed a letter to Governor Brown, both judiciary committees and the Chief Justice and also submitted it to the Judicial Council written comments that shows 85 judicial vacancies.
She questioned the need for funding additional judges with 85 vacancies and no court staff to support them even if the governor appointed them.
Again, what she was unaware of was the nearly hundred judges statewide who no longer have a courtroom or courtroom staff to support them. When you factor those numbers in, requesting additional judgeships is patently foolish, especially since you can’t lay off judges and money must come from somewhere, so let’s lay off even more court employees to fund them so they can sit in their chambers without courtroom support staff. Furthermore, the constitution permits the Chief Justice to reassign judges based on needs yet it would appear that she has never made such an effort.
It’s akin to Imelda Marcos asking the state for more money to buy shoes.