Gov. Brown Vetoes Limits On Court Outsourcing


In a move bound to be greeted as anti-labor by union leadership, California Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would have required any courthouse-job outsourcing to include proof that it would actually save money. In effect, unions representing court workers had argued that outsourcing simply moved public money into private pockets.
In his veto announcement Monday, Gov. Brown said the bill went too far and required “… California’s courts to meet overly-detailed and — in some cases — nearly impossible requirements when entering into or renewing certain contracts.” He also said “flexibility” was part of his decision.
As Courthouse News noted in its coverage, the bill was primarily backed by the California Court Reporters Association and the Service Employees International Union and was considered a response to Placer County Superior Court’s firing of its entire court reporter staff and replacement with private contractors. Read the CN story here.

Monterey County Adapting To Justice Rationing

A story in the Monterey County Weekly documents adjustments to civil cases after years of budget cuts, including the hit to local small claims cases. Says the paper: “With the closure of the King City courthouse on Sept. 23, the calendars of the three other county courthouses – in Salinas, Marina and Monterey – are under pressure to pack in more cases.”
The report quotes Monterey County Superior Court Presiding Judge Marla Anderson: “With the same amount of filings, you have to do the same amount of work with fewer employees,” The Weekly says that labor expenses account for 79 percent of the county courts’ $21-million budget, which is now facing six years of cuts. Countywide, the Weekly adds, the court system has reduced its workforce by 52 positions since 2008.

Sacramento Superior Court “stuck” with sheriff’s budget shortfall

According to a report by the Sacramento Bee, the Sheriff’s Department had notified Sacramento Superior Court in July that they expected a combination of funding shortfall and added costs totaling $2.2 million.  Sheriff’s officials had told Superior Court managers that they’d have to pull as many as 15 deputies off the security detail to offset the shortfall.

According to the report, “Some judges reacted to the notification with zinging emails that forecast danger to themselves and the public if a reduction of that size became a reality. Chris Volkers, the court’s executive officer, threatened to sue if Sheriff Scott Jones went ahead with the cut.”

Court officials and the Sheriff’s Department came to a resolution… including $600,000 in increased funding from the state. 
While the issue is resolved for now, the bailiff’s budget may continue to be a drain on the court system. According to the report, “Sacramento Superior Court Presiding Judge Laurie M. Earl said she expects a repeat of the security funding face-off with the Sheriff’s Department next year.” Earl also points out that “there’s no real audit procedures in place” to assure the funding is spent appropriately.
“We don’t have any leverage obviously because we don’t hold the money,” Earl said. “We’re stuck being an unintended victim of this, I think.”

Admin Raises Amid Worker Layoffs Riles A Writer

Wow. We can add Lois Henry to the list of columnists who are less than thrilled with how California’s civil courts are being administered. The regular columnist for The Bakersfield Californian newspaper took exception to a decision to grant raises for some administrative staff while courtrooms and even entire courthouses are being closed. 
Noting that court budgets have taken “hit after hit” the writer adds “… but even worse, the courts’ own administrator, aptly known as the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), seems hell bent on spending what little money the Legislature has carved out for local courts on, well, administrative claptrap … it’s been a years-long problem that only recently received a withering eye from the Legislature as reports have uncovered unbelievable waste within the AOC. Still, California’s Chief Justice recently approved 3.5 percent raises for hundreds of AOC, appellate and Supreme Court employees.”
She also quotes Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe, who is also executive director of the Alliance of California Judges, a group she notes “… has struggled to shed light on how the AOC’s spending has affected the public’s right to access its court system.” Judge Lampe tells her that “… we’ve lost 2,500 jobs and had to close 80 courtrooms throughout the state, yet the oversight staff in San Francisco gets a pay raise. It sends the wrong message.”

‘System Failure’ Closes ‘Public’ Court Budget Meeting

State officials are blaming a “systems failure” for loss of an audiocast feed that effectively shut unions and others out of a key budget-allocation meeting this week. The failure took on added impact, union leadership noted, because they had not received timely notice about the meeting and were relying on the audio. While the Administrative Office of the Courts set up a conference line for some of the budget committee members, there were not enough lines for labor officials and even legislative aides who wanted to hear about how court money is being divided.
The Courthouse News quoted Michelle Castro with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) saying that  “… we have a vested interest in trial court funding; how the funds get distributed and what purposes they are establishing priorities around,” Michelle Castro with the SEIU said in an interview. “We’re at a very critical juncture in the trial courts. We are going through extreme amounts of cuts on the backs of court workers.”
At issue are deliberations of a special advisory committee for trial court budgets that approved roughly $72 million for programs supporting the trial courts and technology projects. The Courthouse News reported that the “… allocations included $18 million to maintain interim versions of the now-defunct Court Case Management System and the Arizona server that hosts it.” That’s bound to raise eyebrows because the state legislature approved a last-minute $60 million for trail courts with the direction it be used to save jobs and keep courts open – there has been a concern that money might be directly spent on other areas or diverted to replace money that would have otherwise gone for those purposes. 
     “Our big issue is the Legislature said this $60 million was directly supposed to go to making sure the court doors were open. Is that really happening?” said a union official in the Courthouse News story. Read more here.

After Layoffs, L.A. Courts Hiring Again – Judges That Is

After laying off more than 100 justice workers over the past month and eliminating hundreds more positions, the Los Angeles Superior Court has announced a half-dozen new hires for some $178,789-per-year jobs. Gov. Brown announced the appointment of six new judges last week, including two Superior Court commissioners, one former public defender and two prosecutors.
In one of the ironies of the justice rationing system, judges are protected in their jobs. Yet some have complained that they are actually not that effective due to staff cutbacks. Most judges begin their time on the bench after a governor’s appointment, and while they then face “election” most never face serious opposition.
The new judges are Loyd C. Loomis, Nicole C. Bershon, Beverly L. Bourne, Rupa S. Goswami, Curtis A. Kin and Teresa T. Sullivan. You can read more about them here.