New Report Laments San Bernardino Court Situation

Even in a state where court budget shortfalls have created years-long waits for civil trials and closed more than 50 courthouses, the situation in San Bernardino County remains particularly harsh. Now a new report, just in time for state budget season, is detailing just how harsh.
The Daily Press in Victorville reports that, “… for starters, the county is facing a $62.7 million funding gap for 2015, meaning that its missing 46 percent of the $137.8 million that was calculated to be needed per workload-based allocation, according to a report March 25 by the state’s Judicial Branch.”
The report also notes that “… since fiscal year 2007, San Bernardino County courthouses in Twin Peaks, Redlands, Chino, Needles and Big Bear have closed. A courtroom in Joshua Tree was also shuttered in fiscal year 2007.”
It’s a solid reminder that years of cuts have left many judicial systems in shambles. Read about one of those systems here.

Making A Business Case For Fully Funding Courts

An opinion piece in The Boston Globe is the latest to make the business case for a well-funded justice system. It cites a recent white paper that illustrates how “… inadequate funding of the state court system has an adverse impact on the economy as a whole.” It also notes the oft-cited Los Angeles study documenting billions of dollars in economic losses.
The column argues that “… efforts to quantify the economic harm caused by underfunding have revealed staggering losses. For example, a 2009 Micronomics Group study of the County of Los Angeles revealed that superior court budget deficits of between $79 million and $140 million would result in economic losses greater than $59 billion. Other studies have shown similar results. Given the established correlation between underfunding and economic loss, why would we ever choose not to fully fund and staff our state courts?”

Immigration Court Scrutiny Brings Cries For Chance

Those tens of thousands of border children seeking asylum in the United States have shed light on the nation’s immigration courts, and it’s hard to like what we’re seeing. Now, the leaders of the National Association of Immigration Judges are calling on Congress to crate what many of us though we had all along – an independent immigration court system. It turns out that the “court” is actually part of law enforcement, in effect a division of the Department of Justice.
That means, for example, that immigration judges cannot hold federal prosecutors from the Department of Homeland Security in contempt of court because judges are considered to be lawyers working for the Justice Department. Erin Kelly, of the Gannett Washington Bureau, writing in USA Today, has a great report that quotes Judge Dana Leigh Marks, a San Francisco-based immigration judge and president of the National Association of Immigration Judges: “We need an independent immigration court system which stands on its own. Enforcement should not be allowed to control courts.”

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

Sen. Feinstein Discovers Need For Child Representation

The Los Angeles family court may be limping along and we may be closing facilities and programs important to juvenile justice, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein has at least discovered the need for representation for children being detained under civil (as opposed to criminal) immigration issues. In an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times, she says of the detained, “… it is also imperative that child advocates be provided for these children, both while they are in federal custody and upon release to family members or sponsors. The children need representation as their court cases advance, and no child should be forced to navigate the U.S. legal system alone.”
She also wrote that she applauds “… the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review for expanding juvenile dockets across the country to handle immigration cases for these children. Otherwise, these cases could easily get lost in current backlogs, forcing these children to live in the shadows indefinitely.” All this, of course, only after a flood of negative publicity over current practices of holding thousands of children without much of a plan on how to process them or return them home. 
Read the senator’s position here:

Critics Target State Budget Process

Critics of the state budget process are starting to note last-minute deals that left lawmakers lacking information while negotiations went on in secret. Report the Los Angeles Times, “… in the final days of negotiations this year, lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown added $5 million to help Los Angeles host the Special Olympics next year and $3 million for research into the emerging field of precision medicine. But it’s not just relatively minor spending items that are included at the last minute; there are also complex policy proposals [for example] the administration introduced a plan to limit the amount of money school districts can keep in their reserves, just hours before it was vetted by the joint budget committee Wednesday.”
Meanwhile, commentary on what the new budget means for the court system remains scarce. But read the LAT report here: Closed-door, last-minute state budget decisions raise concerns

Courts Budget Too Little, Too Wait

Those long wait times and delayed justice are not likely to go away anytime soon, given this year’s state budget focus on Gov. Brown’s bullet train project and increased education funding, say the early reviews of the just-passed spending plan. Says The Courthouse News: “… [the] $156 billion budget California lawmakers passed Sunday gave a $40 million boost to courthouse construction, but fell far short of the $266 million the judiciary hoped to raise for the trial courts this year… Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye unveiled in January a “budget blueprint” for the courts that set a $1.2 billion funding goal over the next three years, with $266 million more needed this year just to stay afloat.
Also from TCN: “We are nowhere near adequate funding of the [justice] system and nowhere even their own treading water mark, and that’s unfortunate,” Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, said on Sunday. “This budget simply does not focus on the priorities that Californians have set.”
What’s less clear is what political price, if any, lawmakers will pay for putting the courts on the budget back-burner.
See the story here: Courthouse News Service

Divorce Delay? Not If You Can Pay For Private!

Years of judicial branch budget cuts have delayed civil trials, and divorce cases have been hard-hit as family law judges focus on domestic violence orders and other priorities. While state lawmakers have been slow to react, it seems the free market is making a move: a growing trend is to have “private trials,” and it’s apparently catching on across the country.
The Tulsa World newspaper is reporting that “California-based trial consulting firm Decision Analysis has been suggesting clients use a private trial for a long time, but the procedure is just starting to gain popularity, firm president Richard Gabriel said.” He said that “I think people are starting to consider it more and more because state court budgets across the country have been severely slashed,” adding that the cuts mean fewer court staff, increasing the length of time and money it takes for cases to be completed in the public courts system.
Other advantages if you can afford to pay for judges, and sometimes juries and other costs: Private trials also provide the privacy that mediation and arbitration do. Petition for divorce and decree of divorce is public record, but unless somebody appeals to the actual court system, the conclusions of law then those specifics are confidential.

Despite all that, some studies suggest that you might actually save money because “… complicated civil cases often come out ahead financially because private trials are much quicker.” Read the story 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

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…”