More Courts Charging Fees For Online Records

More California courts are joining Los Angeles in charging people to look at civil court records online, raising concerns among some public access groups and others. Starting April 23, Alameda County Superior Court charges $1 for each of the first five pages of a civil court record downloaded online, with the cost dropping to 50 per page after that and capped at $40 total.
Los Angeles Superior Court fees start $4.75 for each record searched. Teresa Ruano, spokeswoman for the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts, says that “… there’s a budget crisis in the courts. Revenue is part of the solution, a small part of the solution.”

You can read the AP story in the Greenfield Reporter here.  

Real Budget Debate Begins Today

Months of polite positioning ended today with the latest draft of Gov. Brown’s budget, with Republicans perhaps surprisingly welcoming of his spending plan while Democrats worried about lack of funds for things like social programs, education and courts. While most of the headline coverage focused on the state’s “rainy day fund” and debt payments, deeper coverage outlined the coming battle including a cautious outlook on judicial branch money.
CA State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) supports increased funds for courts.

CA State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) supports increased funds for courts.

Comments of note: Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), says The Los Angeles Times, “… signaled the majority party will want to spend more on programs that were cut in the past.” The paper quoted the senator including courts in his consideration: “It is time to consider thoughtful and careful reinvestment in areas such as the courts, education, healthcare, mental health, early childhood education and infrastructure that will have an immediate, positive impact on the entire state.” 
The Times also noted that California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye said the governor’s budget was “encouraging because it identifies additional funding and recognizes the need for fiscal stability with a creative proposal for a two-year budgeting formula for the trial courts.” She added the very cautious: “I look forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature before the adoption of the Budget Act to ensure that all Californians have access to justice.”
Here’s a good reaction story from the Times:

CA Budget Draft Due Tomorrow (Tues., May 13)



The home stretch for California’s 2014 budget begins this week as Gov. Jerry Brown releases his latest draft spending plan tomorrow (Tues. May 13), in Sacramento. The headlines will no doubt focus on the “rainy day fund” discussion, and most of the speculation is that state courts – especially the civil courts – are not going to be happy. Remember that it was the governor’s draft plans that prompted street protests and lawsuits about this time last year.
A bit part of that rainy day fund will go toard some $200 billion in state debt that lawmakers have not figured out how to repay. A lot of that debt is the result of pension costs, according to a state fiscal analyst, so you can expect public employee pensions to come under fire during the debate. You’ll be able to follow the budget release in many places, but you might consider Allen Young at the Sacramento Business Journal for a nicely skeptical take on the governor’s spending plan.

June Budget Challenges Union Talks

With next month’s state budget deadlines looming, several union contracts remain in limbo – including the “California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers in State Employment” group. If they miss next month’s deadline for an agreement-and-funding decision, they will have to wait until August to resume discussions. Union officials told the Sacramento Bee newspaper that an unexpected shift in top management has delayed the agreement, but that time is growing short.
Missing the deadline this year would be especially irritating, not only because the state has a surplus budget for the first time in years but because many state-worker unions are getting raises that kick in July 1.

Fresno Op-Ed Is A Civics, Courts Lesson

The Fresno Bee is running an opinion piece arguing not only that our federal courts are in a crisis, but that the real problem is a “dumbing down” of the education process. Daniel O. Jamison, an attorney with the Dowling Aaron Inc. firm, writes that “… we are at risk of losing the judicial branch. The reason is largely the failure of education. Increasingly, legislators and members of the executive are drawn from a public unschooled in civics. The result is ignorance of the needs and role of the courts…”
He notes that the lack of judges means that many non-criminal (meaning civil issues, like bankruptcy) federal court cases in the Fresno area are redirected to Sacramento, a distance that effectively “closes” the courthouse doors to many seeking civil justice. It’s a compelling argument that the real problem  is that people don’t understand how our three branches of government work – an argument we will hear more as the state budget debate gets more attention over the next month.

Budget Advisory Group Holding Thursday Call

The public can listen into the next meeting of California’s Trial Budget Advisory Committee meeting via a conference call, officials announced. The meeting will discuss “ongoing budget issues plaguing the state’s courts,” according to published accounts, and will focus on court interpreter funding and proposed revisions to some tech project allocations. 
The meeting is open to the public via conference call. The meeting will also be audiocast live. More information is available here: Trial Court Budget Advisory Committee – judicial_council.

Chief Justice Continues Funding Push

The “Tani tour” continues, and California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye may be warning wealthy communities, that may have  been spared extreme court cuts so far, that their services might soon suffer from a lack of funding. That’s because new state spending formulas take population into consideration, so slow-growth communities will feel the pain.
That talking point emerged at the Marin County Civic Center where, the Marin Independent Journal reports, “… Cantil-Sakauye described the judiciary as desperately underfunded, having been forced to cut about $1 billion since the economic downturn began around 2008. The cuts have forced the closure of 51 courthouses in the system, even as it struggles to digest 7.5 million new cases a year in a state of 38 million people speaking scores of languages.”

After the statewide message, Kim Turner, executive director of Marin Superior Court, “… said Marin has fared better than other counties because its population has not exploded. But she said Marin stands to lose money as court funding is spread to counties in dire shape.”

“It’s going to hurt,” Turner said, as quoted by the Independent Journal. “It’s going to require some belt-tightening.”
You can read the full story here.

‘New Years’ Eve’ Weekend For Some Law Folks

With the “law year” ending on June 30, this weekend offers a two-for-one as many communities also hose Law Day events (it was Thursday). As they note in the Washington, D.C. Bar Association “… in the tradition ofLaw Day, each year the WBA and the WBALF hosts the Annual Law Day Dinner on the first Saturday of May. That event is a highlight of the legal calendar, drawing about 500 people to the formal dinner.

So be sure to, as they say, check your local listings.