California budget raid jeopardizes Modesto courthouse construction funding

A decision by California lawmakers to raid $1.4 billion from the judicial system during the budget crisis is having a direct impact on a $267 million courthouse construction project in Modesto, according to the ModBee. With 23 courthouse construction projects in the works across the state, the budget raid could have implications well beyond the city borders.

As budgets have become constrained, courthouses have closed, forcing existing courthouses to renovate to accommodate the influx of new cases. Brandi Christensen, facilities support service manager for Stanislaus County Superior Court told the Bee, “We don’t have an inch to move. Our courtrooms are packed every day.”

In addition to lack of space, many courthouses have fallen into deep disrepair from age. In the case of the Modesto courthouse, the Bee reports, “The most modern part of the current courthouse — which houses the courtrooms — was built in 1960. The other half of the courthouse was built in 1871 and remodeled in 1939. The courthouse has no holding cells for inmates, who are kept in jury rooms before their court appearances.”

The Judicial Council of California’s Court Facilities Advisory Committee met on June 28th in San Francisco to go over courthouse construction funding, and found it is coming up short. Very short. The Council directed the staff to develop funding recommendations, in concert with  the Department of Finance, in advance of their next meeting August 4th.

We’ll continue to follow the story, and you can get caught up with full details at the full Modesto Bee article here.

New State Budget Gives Courts A Slight Increase


Gov. Brown’s latest spending  plan gives California courts a slight boost from the January version, but falls well short of restoring the drastic cuts that have hit the system over the last half-decade. The San Jose Mercury-News break it down as “… [the increase is] from last year’s $3.29 billion to about $3.47 billion, with most of that increase headed to the 58 trial courts around California hit hardest by past cutbacks. Courts in counties across the state, including Bay Area systems in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, have been forced to reduce public hours, lay off employees and shutter remote courthouses as a result of prior cuts that at one point exceeded $1 billion over several years.”

Read the story here.

Gov. Adds Cash For Courts


Gov. Jerry Brown – Photo:

It seems Gov. Jerry Brown is increasing California judicial branch funding this year, not only moving closer to pre-recession levels but also singling our specific areas – like employee benefits – to illustrate where the money should go. The Mercury-News explains that “… the governor’s 2015-16 budget bumps the state court system’s budget from last year’s $3.29 billion to $3.47 billion, with most of that increase headed to the 58 trial courts around California hit hardest by past cutbacks. Courts in counties across the state, including Bay Area systems in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, have been forced to reduce public hours, lay off employees and shutter remote courthouses as a result of prior cuts that at one point exceeded $1 billion over several years. Under the governor’s budget, the judiciary’s budget would inch closer to the $3.7 billion allocated in 2007-08. In fact, with the use of trial court reserve money required under previous budgets, the governor’s staff pegs spending on the judicial branch at about $3.7 billion in the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Read the story here.

Award-Winning Courthouse Closes After Just 4 Years

Just four years after its opened amid much fanfare, one of California’s most scenic courthouses has become another victim of the state’s justice rationing, slated to close Nov. 3. A Plumas County News report quotes Plumas Superior Court Executive Officer Deborah Norrie saying that “… the trial courts have lost a billion dollars (in funding) in the last few years. The Plumas court has taken its fair share of hits.”
Known for its award winning design, Portola Courthouse is facing closure.

Known for its award winning design, Portola Courthouse is facing closure.

Plumas County, a Sierra Nevada community located near the Nevada border in northwestern California, has now lost three of its four court facilities, the newspaper noted, with the Greenville court closing in 2012 and Chester’s court closing last year. All cases in Plumas County will now be processed and heard at the Quincy courthouse, but with reduced court hours. The paper reported that, beginning Nov. 3, the court will be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Phones will be answered from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Portola courthouse won design awards and looks more like a ski area entrance than a traditional court building. It is owned by the state judicial system and it remains unclear what, if anything, will be done with the 6,500 square foot building. Local judges say they hope it reopens as a courthouse when funding is restored.

Court Budget Group Punts On Alternative Allocation

Despite a looming $22.7 million revenue shortfall, the state’s Trial Court Budget Advisory Committee, or TCBAC, will decline to offer an “alternative recommendation” on how funds are allocated to California courts, according to The Courthouse News Service. The CN report adds that “… deftly bypassed the option to revisit the original four allocation options. Instead, members narrowed their focus to the two pro-rata 2014-15 base allocation scenarios. Adoption of the second scenario means a 2 percent increase for San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Siskiyou, Stanislaus, Tehama, and Tulare counties over the first scenario.”

The news service also noted that “… the meeting was only the second afforded public access after Gov. Brown axed a provision initiated by the state Legislature earlier this year to open up all of the council’s advisory committee and subcommittee meetings.”

Read more here: Courthouse News Service

L.A. Moves To Disassemble Part Of ‘School-To-Prison Pipeline’

As the nation watches racially heated events in Ferguson, Missouri unfold, the city of Los Angeles is going about disassembling what critics have called its “schools-to-prison” pipeline, ending policies that turned school issues into police issues. But the move is also a consequence of reduced juvenile court capacity, according to an official quoted in a New York Times article.
According to the NYT: “Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the Los Angeles Juvenile Courts, who was involved in creating the new policies, said that the juvenile justice system was overtaxed, and that the changes would ensure that the courts were dealing only with youngsters who ‘really pose the greatest risk to the community.'”
The NYT also reported that “… students 14 years old and under received more than 45 percent of the district’s 1,360 citations in 2013, according to the [Labor/Community] Strategy Center [a civil rights group] African-American students, who account for about 10 percent of the total population, received 39 percent of “disturbing the peace” citations, typically given for fights.” At one time, police in the program were issuing arrest citations for showing up late to school, a practice terminated in 2012.

Rich Sue, Poor Don’t In Downsized Courts

Under the downsized and more expensive California court systems, officials are reporting that some types of cases like probate, mental health, dependency, personal injury, property damage, and wrongful death claims continue increasing. But public-access civil cases like small claims, where there’s no attorney involved, are decreasing.
In a solid story from The Reporter newspaper in Vacaville, a Sacramento-area community in Solano County, we learn that “… in a statement issued along with a summary of the report, Justice Douglas Miller, chair of the Judicial Council’s Executive and Planning Committee, called the trend in court filings worrisome [saying] “… it coincides with two other trends that have occurred as result of budget cuts to the judicial branch: the increase in court filing fees to offset General Fund budget cuts and closure of courthouses and/or the reduction of hours at our courthouses. It’s something that we in the judicial branch are very concerned about,” Miller said in a statement.
One concern is that, with diminished hours, increased costs and the challenge of traveling to farther-away court houses, that people who would have normally turned to courts would simply give up. The report can certainly be read to support that claim.

AOC Name-Change Called ‘Superfluous’

As reported by, Steven Jahr is the California Administrator Director of the Courts.

As reported by, Steven Jahr is the California Administrator Director of the Courts.

Anyone thinking that the re-branding of the controversial “Administrative office of the Courts, or AOC” to the “Judicial Council staff” is window dressing might note comments by outgoing AOC Director Steven Jahr, who called the measure “superfluous,” according to the MetNews.
The MetNews notes that “… the name change announced Friday was seen by some judges as a harbinger of Jahr’s departure. At the Judicial Council meeting announcing the name change, Jahr was unusually freewheeling in his expression, saying, ‘Retiring the name AOC will produce a perceptual change, or perhaps a cultural change. Yet under the substantive law, it makes no change at all. The name is superfluous.'”

Jahr replaced William Vickrey, who, the MetNews story reminds us, “… left the AOC in September 2011 amid mounting controversy over the agency’s spending practices and a $500 million court technology project that judges and state legislators deemed a failure.”

Read the report here: Courts Director Jahr to Step Down After Two Years

Writer Recaps Court Budget Situation

Much-watched Sacramento Bee Columnist Dan Walters, whose ideas go well beyond the state capitol, has published a good recap of the state’s court situation, outlining the recent history of shifting state funding from local to state authorities and concluding that: “Bottom line: The shift to state support was supposed to bring financial stability to the courts but instead has brought much higher instability.”
He offers this quick history: “When the Legislature and then-Gov. Pete Wilson agreed in 1997 that the state would assume the entire cost of financing California’s largest-in-the-nation court system, judges rejoiced… it was a big win for Ron George, whom Wilson had appointed as the state’s chief justice a year earlier, and he hailed ‘a stable and adequate source of funding’ as ‘one of the most important reforms in the California justice systems in the 20th century.'”
Walters also observes that “… the impact is being felt mostly on the civil side of courts because criminal cases command priority for restricted judicial resources. It can take literally years for a civil case to get a trial date.”
It’s a good read, but also a good story to file away for newcomers to how things got this way. Read it via the Mercury News here Dan Walters: California courts sought stability, found instability

More Bay Area Court Facilities Close

More court facilities are closing and more employees are losing their jobs in the Bay Area. The ongoing budget crisis is hitting Solano County Superior Court, where officials have announced cuts that include closing clerks offices, staff layoffs and shuttering the Family Law Clerk’s Office at the Solano Justice Building in Vallejo. The family law office closing means custody matters and other issues will be heard some 20 miles away in Fairfield, according to published reports.
The Reporter newspaper notes that, “… in announcing the cuts, local officials quoted California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye in her comments on the state budget’s impact on courts. ‘This is the second year of partial reinvestment in the judicial branch after five years of severe budget cuts resulting in a reduction to access to justice. And while I appreciate the work of the Governor and the Legislature in increasing branch funding, especially given the context of this budget, the state revenues, the demands and the needs – unfortunately it is not enough to provide timely, meaningful justice to the public,’ she said. 
The Reporter also quoted local officials explaining that the current-year funding shortfall leaves the Solano courts with an $830,000 deficit going into the fiscal year. Read the story here: Solano County Courts announce closures, furloughs, layoffs for coming fiscal year