Budget Deadline Punts On Court Funding

How to handle an election-year funding issue involving the labor-intensive courts system? First, expand it to a “two-year” plan to avoid the hard questions in the election cycle and then tie any increases to “reforms” to be identified later. As this weekend’s constitutionally mandated June 15 California budget deadline expires, that’s the status of hard-hit courts in Gov. Brown’s budget. Not always noted is that one of the ways to “tighten operating costs” is increasing the amount workers pay into their pension funds.
The Courthouse News is a go-to source for following the issue, especially with the focus on Los Angeles, home of the nation’s largest trial court where cutbacks have closed courthouses and forced long journeys to court.
For this years budget, The Courthouse News reports that “… Department of Finance Director Michael Cohen said the $160 million for the courts is part of a two-year strategy to stabilize court funding while the Judicial Council and the chief justice look for ways to tighten operating costs. Most of the additional funds will go toward paying court-employee pensions and benefits and backfilling a shortfall in filing-fee revenue.”

Secret Deals May Mean More Court Money

They are the most important decisions being made for people of California, so of course the negotiations are going on in secret – but the “leaks” are that courts are about to get a “modest” increase over previous drafts of Gov. Brown’s proposal, according to published news report.

The Contra Costa Times reports that this year’s deal-making is going nicely, saying that “… the knockdown, drag-out partisan fights, stretching on for months, are history. These days, state budget negotiations are downright cordial.” And the paper adds that “… according to Capitol sources briefed on closed-door budget negotiations, the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic lawmakers have quietly reached deals on funding prekindergarten, pumping more money into the state’s beleaguered court system and funding levels for the state’s controversial bullet train.”

On courts, the report also says that “… after proposing a $160 million increase in spending for California’s courts, Brown has reportedly agreed to another modest bump in funding for the judicial system, whose budget was hit hard at the height of the state’s financial crisis.”

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.

CityWatch: Dems Tone-Deaf on Veterans’ Asbestos Issue

CityWatch has published the recent commentary by California Courts Monitor publisher, Sara Warner. The piece, originally published on the Huffington Post’s national political page, argues that Democrats are tone deaf when it comes to the role that veterans play in asbestos bankruptcy trust issues.

Read it at CityWatch here.


After Fed Court Ruling, ICE Detainee Requests Go Unheeded

Reflecting on the fact that many immigration detentions are civil, rather than criminal, actions, more than 100 jurisdictions across the United States have stopped enforcing “holds” issued by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE. The policy changes follow a federal court ruling in Oregon declaring such practices unconstitutional.
More than a dozen of the counties changing the practice are in California, including Los Angeles and San Diego, where authorities have stopped complying with the ICE detainer requests, reports the Orange County Register. The newspaper quotes Julia Harumi Mass, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California: “Detaining people based on suspected civil immigration violations without probable cause not only wastes scarce local public safety resources and contradicts our sense of fairness – it undeniably violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” 
Read the Register report by Roxana Kopetman here.

Courts Monitor Writer On Vets’ Asbestos Issue

On the Huffington Post’s national political page today, Sara Warner, publisher of the California Courts Monitor, argues that Democrats are being tone deaf when it comes to the role that veterans play in asbestos bankruptcy trust issues.
You can find her comments here: Dems Tone-Deaf on Veterans’ Asbestos Issue

Train, Not Courts, Lead Budget Talks

With the June 15 state budget deadline nearing, spending talks are apparently focused – not on replacing lost court funding – but on Gov. Jerry Brown’s plans for the $68 billion-with-a-b bullet train from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, according to the Los Angeles Times and other sources.
Writes the LAT: “… the governor faces another challenge as he tries to secure new funding from pollution fees to keep the project rolling. His effort is emerging as one of the most hotly contested elements of this year’s budget, providing leverage to Democratic lawmakers who have their own eyes on the money.”
You can keep up with the negotiations, but don’t expect any court funding updates, here: Bullet train funding is bargaining chip in state budget debate

Still Undecided? LAT Endorsements

Still undecided on today’s judicial election vote? For what it’s worth, here are the Los Angeles Times endorsements:
Office 22: Pamala Matsumoto
Office 48: Charles M. Calderon
Office 54: Debra L. Losnick
Office 61: Jacqueline Lewis
Office 76: Alison Matsumoto Estrada
Office 87: Andrew M. Stein
Office 97: Songhai “Sunny” Armstead
Office 107: Emma Castro
Office 113: Stacy Wiese
Office 117: James B. Pierce
Office 138: Donna Hollingsworth Armstrong
Office 157: Andrew Cooper
You can see more of the Times recommendations here: June 3 primary election: The Times recommends

Santa Monica Rep. Named To Key Budget Group

Former Santa Monica Mayor and current state Assembly member Richard Bloom has been named to a committee that will reconcile difference between spending plans of the two California legislative branches. The four-member Assembly group, along with four members from the state Senate, will try to develop a final plan for the governor’s consideration in time for the June 15 constitutional deadline for a new California budget.
Sacramento-based Capitol Alert reports that “…. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, named Sens.Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley to the conference committee. Leno leads the Senate budget committee and Nielsen is vice-chairman. Hancock leads the panel’s public safety subcommittee.
Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego, named Asembly members Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, Jeff Gorrell, R-Camarillo, Shirley N. Weber, D-San Diego, and Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, to the conference committee. Skinner leads the Assembly budget committee and Gorrell is its top Republican. Bloom leads the panel’s resources and transportation subcommittee and Weber chairs its health and human services subcommittee.”