| Asm. Calderon bill, AB 1208, would change the way courts are funded and work statewide
by Brian Leubitz
UPDATE: AB 1208 passed out of the Assembly yesterday and now moves on to the Senate.
Last year, I documented what was a mini cry of outrage about the pending disaster in court funding. The courts have taken quite the slashing in pretty much every round of budget cuts. Yet, beyond the Bar Associations and a few judges, few have really noticed. This has severe ramifications for both our efforts to maintain a speedy trial system on the criminal side as well as provide some sort of civil justice system. Because of the constitutional requirements, the civil side has been taking the brunt of the cuts, but our criminal justice system has certainly not been immune.
A group of lawyers mounted a protest on Jan 18, but I was unable to find any coverage of note in the media. But the issue is real, and there are a lot of different proposals on how to fix it. One consortium, most prominently backed by SEIU, who represents many of the court employees, is pushing AB 1208 in order to push power down from the state level and on to the county level courts.
As you may expect, that is not universally popular, as Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye, many of the state trial courts, and defense and plaintiff's attorneys, are pushing against the bill. In order to proceed, the bill must emerge from its house of origin, the Assembly, today. You know it is getting nasty when the legal press is using terms like "the knives come out." Fun!
Except, that there are very real consequences. A group of "rebel" trial court judges has alleged that the statewide efforts, coordinated by the Judicial Council, have not spent money wisely and should be more accountable to the trial courts, a sentiment which is at the heart of AB 1208. The Chief Justice, has stated that she would be extremely concerned that the courts would not be able to fund any statewide projects, and that as few as two counties could veto projects, leaving the courts in a state of semi-paralysis. A state of paralysis that is familiar in the Legislature, who would now become more powerful in the funding of the Courts. (Raising a significant separation of powers question.)
While we may get some idea of where this legislation is going, the underlying problem, the massive underfunding of our court system will continue.