Winners, Losers Likely As State Revises Court Funding

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the group that administers California’s courts is changing how cash is divided among 58 state trial courts, and there are winners and losers among individual counties. The Courthouse News is among those reporting on the changes, explaining in a detailed story that “.. the old funding model was frozen along historic lines, based on ratios established in 1994 that carried forward into 1997 legislation that centralized court funding and rule-making and started a big expansion of the central administrative office. After Friday’s vote, trial court funding will slowly begin taking into account the volume of cases handled by individual trial courts along with other factors.”
Among those likely to be losing significant funding: Orange County. Among those likely to be gaining funds, given the case-filing pattern of late, Los Angeles County. But many details must be considered and the Judicial Council more or less admits this is only being done because state lawmakers insisted on changes before even considering increased court funding.
Check out the excellent story here.

Worried About Costs, Imperial County Wants In On Court Cuts Discussions

The lack of public comment into the ongoing Los Angeles County Superior Court reorganization has been one ongoing complaint about the changes, and now the Imperial County Board of Supervisors is “demanding” to be in on discussions, according to the Inland Empire Press. Along with other worries, the supervisors argue that some cuts might save the courts money but end up costing the county additional money for transportation and other services.

Ray Castillo, chairman of the Imperial County supervisors was quoted in the report, pointing out that, “By slashing some cuts to the courts to the tune $500,000, we are looking at double that in cost (of) transporting inmates. So you save over here but … you gave the cost in this case to the county.”  The board directed staff to begin contacting appropriate agencies to make sure local officials are included in discussions.

Report: Even Litigation Settlement Department Getting Cut

If one result of the ongoing Superior Courts cutbacks will be forcing more out-of-court settlements, that will apparently have to occur without much help from the department that helps folks settle, according to a public radio station report. The KPCC newsroom reports that “… the Alternate Dispute Resolution department stopped accepting referrals [this month]. Those cases involve arbitration, mediation and other matters in which litigants in civil, family or probate disputes opt to settle outside of a courtroom.”
Reporter Erika Aguilar also notes that the ADR department began closing offices at courthouses this month and will continue with closures next month [May]—aiming to wrap up all ADR cases by May 10. On the job front, with more than 500 jobs expected to be cut, Aguilar cites court spokesperson Mary Hearn saying in an email last month that she wasn’t sure how many employees would be laid off. “Layoffs will be done according to seniority,” Hearn wrote. “There is no direct correlation between the locations shutting down and the staff employed in those locations being laid off.” 
The excellent KPCC report also has info on which courthouses will be closing. Read it here


Court funding: Politics large and small


A few weeks after a big downtown rally against Los Angeles Superior Court reorganization, a middle-aged man who had attended the protest walked into a Starbucks next to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse and ordered an elaborate latte concoction.

“It would be different,” he mused as they prepared the drink, “if the judges were elected.” 

He must have been thinking of federal court, because the Superior Court judges held up as out-of-touch 1 percenters at the protest ARE elected, albeit in the most unheralded races anyone might imagine. That near-total lack of political interest is a key reason that this “special report” is a long-form accounting of what amounts to simple political Darwinism.

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Looking for ‘literature,’ finding civic revolt

By Sara Warner, from CCM Special Report

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. After some time Back East, I was moving back to California where I’ve lived nearly all of the past 17 years. When talk turned to a courts website last year, our pretensions were mostly literary: we wanted to celebrate “the writing” about justice, like that you get from Associated Press Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch or maybe even less known voices like James Preston Allen, the publisher of San Pedro’s “Random LengthNews.” (Not, by the way, that Mr. Allen is likely to care all that much.)

It seemed logical enough. It was a good project that meshed nicely with my day job as development director for a non-profit legal foundation. Also, I grew up with the Law (capital “L” in our house). My grandfather was a famous lawyer and my grand uncle was a Federal Court judge. Who knew we would find a civil courts system in what amounts to full-on revolt?






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CCM issues first ‘special print report’

Who says new media can’t be old school? Today, the California Courts Monitor is releasing a special report, on old-fashioned newsprint no less, in the Los Angeles area. Distributed free all over the city, the idea is to increase awareness of the ongoing civil courts crisis while also explaining a new focus online.
When we launched the CCM, we hoped to highlight great writing on the judicial process and celebrate the extended legal community. But what we’ve found is a true crisis in the civil court system, so we have decided to become the only site — that we know of, anyway — to consolidate coverage of those issues.
We’ll be posting parts of the special report here in the coming days and if you live in the Los Angeles area keep an eye out for the depression-era photo illustration. You’ll know it when you see it. — The Editors.
(Note: you can download a pdf of the complete Special Report here.)

Report: Services Slashed, Trials Delayed As Court Cutbacks Take Hold

You might think that domestic violence restraining orders would be same-day service by California courts. But you wold be wrong in at least 11 counties, according to the Trial Court Presiding Judges Committee. Plus, some 38 counties have reduced self-help services for litigants without lawyers, according to a report in The Los Angeles Times.
A story by Maura Dolan ( adds to the details stacking up as the state courts cutbacks take hold. She writes that “California courts, reeling from years of state budget cuts, are delaying hearings and trials, allowing records to sit unprocessed for months and slashing services at public windows, a judge’s committee has reported.”

The story offers some highlights: In San Francisco, paying a traffic ticket can now take up to four hours, and filing a lawsuit can consume nearly three hours, the report said. In Sacramento, window services have been slashed by more than 75%, prompting fights in lines, according to the committee. Getting a trial in a traffic matter in San Diego requires at least a five-month wait, the survey found, and court closures have forced some San Bernardino residents to drive up to 175 miles one way to attend to a legal matter. Record-filing has slowed across many counties and created backlogs, the report said.

Read the latest here.

Ethics Committee Says Judges Can Ask Attorneys to Lobby

One more bit of history for the courts funding crisis: It’s helped prompt the first decision from a California ethics committee, which has decided judges can ask attorneys to lobby for more courts funding. That means asking them to write opinion pieces and lobby both the community and state lawmakers. The requests, however, can’t be “coercive,” and by that we guess they mean no more than is inherent when a judge asks something of folks appearing in their court.

The 12-member ethics committee is reportedly the idea of former Chief Justice Ronald M. George and was actually selected years ago by the California Supreme Court. It acts independently of all agencies and its advisory opinions are published at

More on the “Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions” can be found in a Maura Dolan story in The Los Angeles Times here.

Barstow Gets Limited Court From ‘Couch-Cushion’ Money

They were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the budget cuts took hold. But it turns out that the Barstow courthouse will not be entirely closed, as has been thought, but will instead offer limited services, according to the Press-Enterprise newspaper’s Crime Blotter blog
The report reports that “… San Bernardino County Superior Court has become the poster-child for budget cuts to the state court system, with May 6 shutdowns scheduled for its courthouses in Barstow, Needles and Big Bear. But now a small bit of good news. The California Judicial Council has come up with some couch-cushion money from a statewide reserve, and the $1.2 million in emergency funds will allow one courtroom in the Barstow Courthouse to stay in business three days a week, through June 2014.

The newspaper says the court in Barstow will hear traffic, landlord-tenant, small claims and domestic violence cases while civil, family law and criminal cases will still have to be heard elsewhere. Those who get their cases heard in Barstow will be spared a 32-highway-mile, one-way drive to the nearest fulltime court in Victorville. Needles residents whose cases fit the limited Barstow docket will get 30 miles cut from their 174-mile, one-way drive to Victorville.

See the story here.  

More Pushback On Judicial Spending, Lawmaker Sends Strong Warning

When the chairperson of a legislative committee appears at a subcommittee hearing, they want to get people’s attention, according to Recorder blogger Cheryl Miller, and that is what happened recently when Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Van Nuys, visited a courts budget meeting.
Miller, writing in the Recorder’s LegalPad blog, notes that Blumenfield told the group that “… while the state grappled with a budget crisis, court administrators sometimes have acted fiscally irresponsible even though fiscal responsibility was the mantra of the day… We’ve seen a failed computer system with years of cost overruns and nearly $500 million wasted. In the process, the courts took millions from trial courts — sacrificing access to justice — to keep the failed computer project running. This year, the court system will likely enter an agreement and spend $100 million more than we should to build a new courthouse in Long Beach.”
That is another indication of dueling narratives as the state rations access to justice. Miller writes that, “… reading between the lines, the Assembly’s top budget official seemed to be saying that if the Legislature does restore any judicial funding, it’s going to come with some serious strings attached.” It also indicates that not everyone is buying the idea that the courts are with “the people” on spending issues.

Read the Miller blog here.