State Chamber President Backs Court Funding

Allan Zaremberg is president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce. Photo from Sacramento Bee report of 5/22/14.

Allan Zaremberg is president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce. Photo from Sacramento Bee report of 5/22/14.

The president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce has added a business voice to the call for a fully funded court system, calling courts “vital” to the state’s economy and a key part of innovation and job creation. In an opinion piece published in The Sacramento Bee, Allan Zaremberg first notes the funding needs in education and health care then adds “… not so obvious, however, is an appropriate level of funding for California’s courts, a cornerstone of our constitution and democracy.”

The support is, of course, part of gathering pro-court voices in advance of the June 15 California budget deadline. Along with setting out key talking points, it also reminds lawmakers that business interests have a stake in how courts function. Read the comments here.

Court Funds Tied To Worker-Pension Increases



In case anyone needed the top budget issue explained, reporter Katie Orr at Capital Public Radio makes it clear: “At the most basic level, California’s budget allocates money to state programs for the year. But Gov. Jerry Brown also wants to use it to push his agenda.” She notes that “… Brown is proposing a funding increase of $160 million for the trial courts this year, but wants court employees to contribute more to their pensions.”
Other experts equate tying funds to pension contributions is like using federal money to increase the age for legal consumption of alcohol and other issues. She does not include an immediate response from labor or employees who might think it odd to tie their pensions to keeping courts open.

NYT Shines Light On Civil Detainee Labor

The New York Times has published a detailed report on how civil immigration detainees are being used for cheap or free labor in the facilities where they are being held, benefiting not only government agencies but for-profit companies that operate in the facilities. California is one of the states with multiple detention centers, and the report notes that “… near San Francisco, at the Contra Costa West County Detention Facility, immigrants work alongside criminal inmates to cook about 900 meals a day that are packaged and trucked to a county homeless shelter and nearby jails.”

The NYT notes that the federal government has become the largest employer of potentially illegal immigrants: “Last year, at least 60,000 immigrants worked in the federal government’s nationwide patchwork of detention centers — more than worked for any other single employer in the country, according to data from United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. The cheap labor, 13 cents an hour, saves the government and the private companies $40 million or more a year by allowing them to avoid paying outside contractors the $7.25 federal minimum wage. Some immigrants held at county jails work for free, or are paid with sodas or candy bars, while also providing services like meal preparation for other government institutions.”

The report includes the government response of “… the federal authorities say the program is voluntary, legal and a cost-saver for taxpayers. But immigrant advocates question whether it is truly voluntary or lawful, and argue that the government and the private prison companies that run many of the detention centers are bending the rules to convert a captive population into a self-contained labor force.”
This is the kind of story that might illustrate the difference in rights people have in criminal vs. civil cases – it is hard to imagine people being held in de facto labor camps if they faced criminal charges, because a different set of rights kicks in. Read the NYT game-changing story here: Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor

Vets Already A ‘Political Football’

How odd is it that a national Veterans Administration scandal is unfolding just as the nation observes Memorial Day? Reports of false documentation, delayed treatment and even deaths brought an address from President Obama last week, including his promise that anyone responsible will be “punished.” The president also expressed the hope that the scandal does not become “another political football.”

AP photo as part of the report from Journal Sentinel on 3/24/14

AP photo as part of the report from Journal Sentinel on 3/24/14

But of course, it will and we should note that in the world of asbestos damage claims, veterans have always been part of the debate. Because the military used so much asbestos decades ago, many vets are getting mesothelioma today. The most recent high-profile example of how that plays out came as Wisconsin passed reforms on asbestos-focused bankruptcy trusts.

Victims’ attorneys argued that increased transparency was unfair to veterans and would make gaining compensation more difficult. And several veterans groups lobbied against the measure. But the AMVETS group countered that bogus claims could deplete the trusts and thus reduce payouts. The “tort reform” advocates say that opposing vets eventually dropped their opposition, but that was only after the governor assured them he was going to sign the legislation, according to the Journal Sentinel newspaper.

You can follow the vets-as-political-football here.



L.A. Times Outlines June 3 Judicial ‘Races’

The Los Angeles Times newspaper is outlining the June 3 election options while noting that early voting actually began May 5. The paper notes the non-race nature of the process, reporting that “… dozens of Los Angeles Superior Court judges also are up for reelection this year, but, with one exception, their names won’t be on the ballot and they can be considered reelected because no challengers filed to run against them… but the ballot will include one sitting judge and his challenger, plus candidates vying to succeed 13 judges who declined to run for reelection. In three of those races, only a single candidate filed to run in each, so those races are essentially decided, even though voters will see those three candidates’ names on the ballot.”
Got it? Good. Oh, and also from the Times, “… in 10 other races, voters must choose among candidates vying to be elected to judicial seats. Of those, eight will be wrapped up in June because they feature only two candidates each, virtually guaranteeing that one will win a majority. In the two races with three candidates, November runoffs are possible.”
Check out the story and find a link to endorsements here: FAQs: The Times’ endorsement process for the June 3 elections

Homeowners Silenced Over Mortgage Complaints

It seems that any frustration over mortgage disputes has an added twist: Shut up about the problem. Reuters is reporting that “… mortgage payment collectors at companies including Ocwen, Bank of America Corp and PNC Financial Services Group are agreeing to ease the terms of borrowers’ underwater mortgages, but they are increasingly demanding that homeowners promise not to insult them publicly, consumer lawyers say. In many cases, they are demanding that homeowners’ lawyers agree to the same terms. Sometimes, they even require borrowers to agree not to sue them again.”
Reuters says that lawyers make this point: if a collector, known as a servicer, makes an error, getting everything fixed can be a nightmare without litigation or public outcry. The news service also notes cites a 2013 report by the National Consumer Law Center that “… found that servicers routinely lost borrowers’ paperwork, inaccurately input information, failed to send important letters to the correct address—or sometimes just didn’t send them at all.”
Consumer advocates are outraged; law enforcement is starting investigations. Read about it here:

Senate Leader Seeks More Court Spending

Now that California’s budget season is really upon us, with a June 15 deadline looming, it seems state Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg is emerging as a champion for increased court spending – at least he’s including it among argument to increase state spending as opposed to diverting money to a “rainy day fund.”
The Sacramento Bee newspaper’s Capitol Alert blog outlines that Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat “… said he will continue to push for expanding California’s public preschool program as the Legislature negotiates the state budget with Brown in the coming weeks. He also called out funding for courts, universities and Medi-Cal reimbursement as areas he thinks are inadequate in the budget proposal…”

Divorced? You Might Want To Double-Check That

With California divorce courts slowing to a snail’s pace, some citizens who want to re-marry are finding out that they can’t – because clerks have not yet processed required documents for a judge’s signature. And now Ted Rall, one of the more famous cartoonists contributing to the Los Angeles Times, has issued both a cartoon and a column mocking the sorry state of our courts.
He suggests switching it all to the Internet, using a lie-detecting algorithm and delivering results via robots and drones. He also solidifies his optimist cred by noting a positive side to the mess: Every cloud has a silver lining. Because so many courthouses have closed, some Californians are automatically getting exempted from jury duty: “In San Bernardino County, the Superior Court has stopped summoning jurors from Needles, making the guarantee of a jury of one’s peers elusive. Because of court closures in the High Desert, a trip to court from Needles can take some residents 3 1/2 hours.”

It’s a fridge-worthy cartoon and column: If our courts are broke, how can Californians get divorced? An idea.

Budget Analysis Continues

Gov. Brown’s “May revision” budget continues to draw attention and analysis, and the Sacramento Business Journal has a good take on how the spending plan pushes court finding issues past November’s election cycle. The BizJournal reports that “… the proposed budget revise points to a new workload-based funding model to allocate money where most needed. The document also expresses support for a two-year strategy to court stabilization that takes time to evaluate and modernize court operations.”

Then it adds: Yet “the administration has been clear that state-funded entities should not expect restorations of reductions — moving forward, government has to be done differently,” the section of the budget summary on the judicial branch reads. That is likely to disappoint labor leaders who hoped some of the nearly 4,000 jobs eliminated over the past years might be reclaimed. Read the BizJournal story here:

California’s trial courts get more money in state budget, but not enough to maintain status quo – Sacramento Business Journal

Brown Budget Targets Employee Pensions

Court-community reviews of Gov. Brown’s new budget are mixed, with state Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye terming it “encouraging” in a statement but labor advocates worried about plans to increase court employees contributions to their pensions. Meanwhile, along with a $60 million increase from his previous plans, Gov. Brown is framing the budget as a two-year process, meaning some real decisions might come after his Nov. re-election bid.
CCM staff photo

CCM staff photo

Discussions are no doubt being held to figure out what the next four weeks will bring. But the Contra Costa Times is among those noting lawmaker support for more courts funding, reporting that “… the chief justice had backing from state legislators, who recently proposed restoring more than $200 million in court funding in the upcoming budget year. Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, and the judiciary committee chairman, said Brown’s courts budget is still ‘far short’ of the hundreds of millions of dollars it needs to handle its caseloads and keep courthouses open and running.”
Missing from the discussion so far: re-opening any of the closed courts or re-hiring any of the nearly 4,000 court workrs laid off over the past few years.