Already? For 2014 Courts Face A Zinger

Apparently it’s not too early to begin fearing at least one aspect of California court spending next year. As of the 2014-15 fiscal year starting July 1, 2014, trial courts will no longer be able to maintain reserves greater than one percent of annual appropriations, reports Rachel Stine in The Coast News, who quotes a court official explaining that “… these reserve funds have previously been used to finance large projects, including technology upgrades, as well as expenditures during low revenue years…”
In other words, it allowed a particular court to squirrel away some cash. And that goes away next year. The newspaper report also outlines the increasing difficulty facing San Diego civil courts, and notes the closing of yet another juvenile justice facility. Court officials explained to Stine that “… there is a lack of community outreach to legislators and politicians about the funding for the judiciary branch” and added that their efforts lobbying with other bar associations and encouraging their clients to campaign for more court funding has only gone so far.
“There is no constituency that is banging on the door and saying, ‘We need our courts to be funded,’” said one official. Read the report here

Sacramento Superior Court “stuck” with sheriff’s budget shortfall

According to a report by the Sacramento Bee, the Sheriff’s Department had notified Sacramento Superior Court in July that they expected a combination of funding shortfall and added costs totaling $2.2 million.  Sheriff’s officials had told Superior Court managers that they’d have to pull as many as 15 deputies off the security detail to offset the shortfall.

According to the report, “Some judges reacted to the notification with zinging emails that forecast danger to themselves and the public if a reduction of that size became a reality. Chris Volkers, the court’s executive officer, threatened to sue if Sheriff Scott Jones went ahead with the cut.”

Court officials and the Sheriff’s Department came to a resolution… including $600,000 in increased funding from the state. 
While the issue is resolved for now, the bailiff’s budget may continue to be a drain on the court system. According to the report, “Sacramento Superior Court Presiding Judge Laurie M. Earl said she expects a repeat of the security funding face-off with the Sheriff’s Department next year.” Earl also points out that “there’s no real audit procedures in place” to assure the funding is spent appropriately.
“We don’t have any leverage obviously because we don’t hold the money,” Earl said. “We’re stuck being an unintended victim of this, I think.”

Courts Praised For Decisions On Prop. 65 Cases

It’s not every day you get a significant insurance recovery firm singing the praises of California’s justice system. Yet firms like Proskauer Rose LLP are doing just that in the wake of some judicial decisions. In a web-posted story headlined “California Judiciary, Not Governor, Leading Effort To Reign In Proposition 65 Abuse,” the firm established that “… Governor Brown had called for sweeping changes to the Proposition 65 regime to reduce the potential for ‘frivolous shake-down lawsuits’ under the statute.”
However, the report added, “facing pressure from the plaintiffs’ bar, the Governor’s office recently released a much more modest proposal to amend Proposition 65. The proposal would expand slightly the statute’s exemption for small businesses; permit the relevant state agency greater flexibility in determining safe-exposure levels; and subject payments made in lieu of civil penalties to greater scrutiny.” But then the firm outlined leadership from the civil judiciary, including decisions on real-world testing for lead content in common foods.
Wait. Are we not told that the California courts are anti-business? Well, for an example of California civil decisions being pro-business check out the post here.

Next Battle For Court Workers: Outsourcing

Now that the dreaded courthouse layoffs have become the new reality, another issue is inching toward center stage for the justice system: outsourcing. The legislature seems ready to limit trial court outsourcing, but opposition is mounting against legislation that would require court managers to actually show promised savings. Lorn Kaye of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education laid out the pro-outsourcing argument at recently, noting that the courts are already outsourcing work ranging from child custody evaluations to security officers.

The new bill would “require specified standards to be met if a trial court intends to enter into a new contract” or extend existing contracts for “any services that are currently or customarily performed by that trial courts employees as of July 1, 2012.” Among other things, the court will have to “clearly demonstrate” actual overall cost savings. See the bill here.

The bill, says Kaye, has already passed the house and is headed for the California Senate. That means it could rumble about as the legislature passes last-minute bills in front of ending its current session this Friday (Sept. 13). Stay tuned. Read the argument that’s being made here. 


Court: Landlords Have Right To Weekend Access

CASES: In a decision with implications for renter’s rights in civil actions, the California Court of Appeals has ruled that tenants must grant landlords weekend access to property so they can show it to prospective buyers. The court was actually upholding a previous decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ruth Kwan in favor of a Santa Monica condo owner. The owner had sued the tenant for refusing to allow open-house viewing on weekends, although “by appointment” viewings were allowed.
State law says renters must grant access for showings during “normal business hours.” To find that weekends fit that wording, the court found that the “community” standards were those of the real estate community. The Metropolitan News-Enterprise explains that the appeals court said that “… since the relevant community is real estate agents, and it was undisputed that those agents work on weekends, the trial judge correctly concluded that weekend hours are not excluded from the statutory definition.

Not everyone will agree with that “normal business hours” decision, and a law professor from San Diego blogged about how much power it could give a less-than-perfect landlord. Shaun Martin wrote: “Imagine that you have a tenant you don’t like. She’s got rent control. She’s got kids. She requires you to actually do repairs. Whatever. She’s a huge pest. Here’s an easy solution for you: Put the place up for sale. Set the price at 20% or so above market.  If you get a sale, great. Huge profit. That almost certainly will not happen. But like you care. You hold open house after open house.  Two weekends a month.  Like here. If it takes a year, so be it. No skin off your back. Not like you’ve got to do anything. You’re not even there.”

Read details of the case in the Met-News here.

And see Prof. Martin’s blog here.

Long Waits Render Issues Nearly Moot, Ridiculous

At first, the story of Sergio Garcia seems merely interesting: He was born in Mexico but has spent much of his life in the United States, where he earned a law degree but is not yet a citizen. Now the California Supreme Court will decide if it sides with Garcia’s supporters, which happen to include the state’s attorney general, or with the Obama Administration, which opposes giving professional degrees to non-citizens.
But the issue seems almost beside the point when you realize that Garcia has waited FOUR YEARS for a court decision on his case, and according to a story by Howard Mintz in the San Jose Mercury News “… his immigration status has been in flux since 1994, when he returned from years of schooling in Mexico to rejoin his family and finish high school in Durham. His father and most of his siblings are citizens, but the sluggish federal visa process for Mexican immigrants has slowed his bid for legal status.”
Mintz notes that “… at the current pace, Garcia, who is too old for a federal program that aids some illegally brought into the country as youths, estimates he will not get his green card until about 2019 — and he does not want to wait that long to be eligible to be a lawyer.” This could be a valid issue, and the state bar wants to award the license, but when it takes four years to get a true day in court and you’re backed up about a QUARTER CENTURY in the immigration process, at what point is the “issue” a joke? And remember, the courts are slowing down with budget cuts.
“I’m very excited to get my day in court,” Garcia told the Mercury News, showing a gift for understatement that will serve him well if he actually becomes an attorney.

Gov. Brown Hires For Superior Court Positions

A few new people will be coming to work for the state’s superior court system soon, but as regular readers have no doubt realized it’s not support staff. Announced is another round of judicial hires for the state-mandated $178,789-per-year jobs. Notable among this round of appointments is Sunil R. Kulkarni, who the South Asian Bar Association identifies as the first South Asian American judge ever appointed in Northern California, and an actual Republican for the San Diego Superior Court bench (most Brown-selected judges are Democrats).
California actually elects its judges. But typical judicial careers begin with an appointment by the governor to fill an open bench. Those chosen rarely face election challenges. The Republican judge in the San Diego court has served as a deputy public defender at the San Diego County Public Defender’s Office, Office of the Primary Public Defender since 1994 and has been an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law since 2003.
Details and background from the new judges abounds at the California Newswire.