SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - By unanimous vote, California's Judicial Council rejected a controversial bill that would send a greater share of the overall court budget to local trial courts.
The council that sits atop California' courts also belittled a labor union's support for the legislation that would starve funding for the powerful centralized bureaucracy of the courts.
Political maneuvering over the bill is intense. The principal argument in opposition to the bill is that it interferes with the independence of the judiciary. Backing the bill, the reformist Alliance of California Judges has now amended the bill to undercut that argument.
State Senator Noreen Evans, who is a key legislative ally of the chief justice and the administrative office, warned at Tuesday's meeting that the bill, AB1208, now has the support of the Service Employees International Union.
"When the SEIU came and indicated its support, were they specific about what iteration of the bill they were in support of?" asked Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
"They were in support of the bill as amended and I asked for a copy of the amendments and they didn't have them," Evans replied.
"They are in support of something they are not in possession of?" Cantil-Sakauye asked, laughing.
"Yes. They're in support of the bill as it will be amended," Evans said, eliciting groans from around the council table.
Reached while on vacation, the union's lobbyist Michelle Castro reacted diplomatically, saying that Evan's portrayal of their conversation is based on a "misunderstanding."
"We support AB 1208 in its latest iteration that was in print already," Castro said.
"What I said to Evans was we supported AB 1208," she added. "I did tell her that my understanding was that the Alliance of California Judges was working on some additional amendments but we had not yet seen them."
"We continue to support AB 1208 as it stands in print right now," Castro told Courthouse News.
Tuesday was the second day of the council's December business meeting with the most volatile issues up for discussion. After voting to oppose the bill that would send more money to trial courts, the council voted to bail out a struggling trial court in San Joaquin County with $2 million.
San Joaquin's Presiding Judge Robin Appel was not able to respond to a question sent Wednesday morning on whether she supported AB1208.
In anticipation of the council meeting, the Alliance published a 20-page report last week blasting the bureaucracy and making the case for the reform legislation. The central proposal by the reformist judges is that 100% of the money allocated by the Legislature for running trial courts should be sent to the trial courts instead of being diverted to pay for a bureaucracy described as "bloated, arrogant and wasteful."
A majority of the members of an older judges group, the California Judges Association, voted in favor of the bill in a poll of members earlier this year. Major trial courts, including Los Angeles, have endorsed the bill.
The Alliance report said the council's continuing opposition to the bill ignores "the requests of Los Angeles judges, San Francisco judges, Sacramento judges, Kern judges, court employees, and the two organizations that together comprise virtually all of the trial judges of California."