Budget Revise Gives Calif. Courts $12.4 Million More

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Though his revised budget emphasizes austerity, California Gov. Jerry Brown wants another $12.4 million to help several courts update their case management software.
     The move is expected to help the judiciary dig itself out of debt. The Judicial Council revealed last year that the fund from which a handful of courts have been receiving help to pay for their case management software has been running at a deficit.
     In light of that deficit, the council had voted in April 2015 to cut support to maintain remnants of the now-defunct software project called the Court Case Management System, at about $7 million a year.
     The project was terminated in 2012 amidst damning criticism from legislators, trial judges, court employees and union leaders as a costly and technologically unwieldy boondoggle. San Diego, Orange, Ventura and Sacramento counties were all using V3 — the latest and last version of the software that the Legislature had allowed the Judicial Council to continue supporting — but are now looking to replace their systems with software from vendors like Tyler Technologies and Thomson Reuters.
     Brown’s addition of $12.4 million from the general fund will go toward paying for those new systems.
     “This is fantastic news for us,” Judicial Council finance director Zlatko Theodorovic told a group of judges and court officials on the council’s Trial Court Budget Advisory Committee on Friday. “This is quite an investment from them.”
     Theodorovic said this funding was a particularly pleasant development, since Brown is being cautious with the budget this year. In light of falling revenues since January, Brown said Friday that he won’t support any significant ongoing spending.
     “The surging tide of revenue has begun to turn,” Brown said. “Quoting Aesop’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper: ‘It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.’ “
     Brown’s revised budget also includes roughly $500,000 for health and benefit costs for trial court employees.
     Beyond those adjustments, little has changed concerning the courts from Brown’s January budget plan.
     “I’m pleased to see that the governor’s budget is consistent with his original proposal in January — one that emphasizes the need for ongoing and new investment in the judicial branch,” California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in an emailed statement that also commended Brown’s plan to move up to five vacant judicial positions to courts in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
     “I am also pleased to see that the administration is trying to address the severe need for judicial resources in the Inland Empire,” she said. “Although more judicial resources are needed, the new judgeships would represent the first real relief in more than nine years for caseloads in those courts.”
     She added, “The Judicial Council and I will continue to work with both the Legislature and the administration in the next month as the budget gets finalized.”
     However, Brown’s administration hasn’t indicated whether he will actually fund those vacant positions.
     Brown also seems to be sticking with his decision to establish a $10 million emergency reserve for the trial courts, which will do away with a different emergency pot he set up three years ago by holding back 2 percent of the courts’ annual allocations.Any funds that weren’t used from that 2 percent reserve were given back to the courts at the end of the fiscal year, but courts won’t have to wait for those unused funds under the new plan. Any emergency money drawn from the $10 million pool will be replenished from the courts’ annual allocation.

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