Golden State Lawsuit Brings Legislative Push For Changes

A pre-kindergarten student at H.W. Harkness Elementary School in Sacramento with Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. Loretta Kalb/ Photo Credit Sacramento Bee report, 3/29/16

A pre-kindergarten student at H.W. Harkness Elementary School in Sacramento with Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. Loretta Kalb/ Photo Credit Sacramento Bee report, 3/29/16

Can new legislation remove the motivation for a longstanding lawsuit? That idea may be tested in the Golden State as a Democratic California lawmaker is introducing legislation to answer a court ruling that could upend California’s teacher employment rules, the Sacramento Bee reports. The newspaper backgrounds that “… a 2014 decision in the Vergara v. California lawsuit ruled unconstitutional laws that dictate how long it takes teachers to earn tenure, how underperforming teachers can be fired and how teachers are laid off during budget pinches. Judge Rolf Treu agreed with plaintiffs that the laws hurt disadvantaged students by keeping inept teachers in classrooms.

The Bee adds that “… the group pursuing the lawsuit argues it went to the courts because a Legislature cozy with teachers unions will not act. Since Treu’s ruling, Republicans in the Democrat-dominated Legislature have unsuccessfully pushed bills to change teacher employment rules. They failed, opposed by the California Teachers Association and other unions.”

The litigation group said it does not have an opinion yet on the new legislation but that any impact upon the lawsuit would have to be seen “through the lens” of the actual complaint.

Read the story here: California bill tackles teacher tenure, firing, layoff rules

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

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…”

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:

‘Top Hellhole’ Ranking Sparks Some Debate

There’s not much balance in most online coverage of California’s latest “Judicial Hellhole” ranking, but there’s a good exception at the Law360 website. Their report notes that the ranking by the American Tort Reform Association doesn’t tell “the whole story,” but offers strong comments from people on both sides of the debate.
For example, Law360 writes that “… the report focuses too heavily on a minority of abusive cases, according to Brian Kabateck,” who is identified as a former president of the Consumer Attorneys of California. The quote continues that “… this report is coming from a coalition of corporations and big businesses and insurance companies. They are taking a very small number of clearly abusive lawsuits, and they are trying to use that as a smoke screen to shield themselves from liability for their bad actions and their injurious conduct directed at Californians.”
But other experts point out that other states have taken measures to clear up clogged court systems and California could learn a thing or two from their experiences. William Oxley, a partner at one of the state’s larger firms who is identified as an attorney “… who defends companies in asbestos cases and other product liability and mass tort cases” said he agreed that California is a more plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction, and thought the Legislature and the California Supreme Court need to take action to balance the playing field.
We do not typically link to paid websites, but this one offers free access for seven days with registration. So here’s the link.

Next Battle For Court Workers: Outsourcing

Now that the dreaded courthouse layoffs have become the new reality, another issue is inching toward center stage for the justice system: outsourcing. The legislature seems ready to limit trial court outsourcing, but opposition is mounting against legislation that would require court managers to actually show promised savings. Lorn Kaye of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education laid out the pro-outsourcing argument at recently, noting that the courts are already outsourcing work ranging from child custody evaluations to security officers.

The new bill would “require specified standards to be met if a trial court intends to enter into a new contract” or extend existing contracts for “any services that are currently or customarily performed by that trial courts employees as of July 1, 2012.” Among other things, the court will have to “clearly demonstrate” actual overall cost savings. See the bill here.

The bill, says Kaye, has already passed the house and is headed for the California Senate. That means it could rumble about as the legislature passes last-minute bills in front of ending its current session this Friday (Sept. 13). Stay tuned. Read the argument that’s being made here.