SAN FRANCISCO (CN) -- Judges from all around California are jumping into an intense lobbying battle over a piece of legislation that would send funds directly to trial courts while taking power away from the central bureaucracy.
Over the course of a few days, one Northern California judge has gathered signatures from 43 head judges who oppose the legislative measure. At the same time, leaders of some of the biggest courts in the state, such as Los Angeles, Orange County and San Francisco, have refused to sign.
The legislative bill, AB 1208, would send 100% of the money allocated by the Legislature for trial court operations to the trial courts, and it would take power over that purse away from the central governing council and the nearly 1,000-strong bureaucracy that sit atop the court system in California.
With a legislative deadline approaching at the end of this month, the rhetoric on both sides is heating up.
"Judges throughout the state are, frankly, fed up with the constant drumbeat of criticism and vituperation," wrote Judge David Rosenberg of Yolo County who circulated the letter opposing AB 1208.
He added, "When three-quarters of the elected presiding judges of the trial courts oppose it . . . well, what more need be said."
But along with 15 other courts, Los Angeles, the biggest court in the nation, has not signed the letter. The court's leadership voted last year to support AB 1208.
"The priority is keeping courts open and able to address disputes that citizens bring to us. That's the core, number one value," said L.A. Judge Robert Dukes in an interview. "I'd rather do a trial in a leaky courthouse then not do a trial."
The presiding judges who signed the letter range from Trinity and Del Norte counties in the far north of California to San Diego and Riverside in the south.
Standing back from the letter are presiding judges in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco and Sacramento.
In terms of population, the judges signing the letter come from counties that have 17 million residents, while those refusing to sign come from counties with roughly 20 million.
"This is not a plebiscite, and presiding judges don't represent populations," Rosenberg reacted. "No one has ever suggested that a PJ in a larger populated county should have more voting power than a PJ in a county with a smaller population. We are all equal. That's part of the democracy of the branch. It's kind of like the U.S. Senate."
One of the smaller courts that is not among the signatories is Fresno. Presiding Judge Gary Hoff said he did not sign the letter because some judges in Fresno support the legislation.
"The letter itself I don't think was specific enough in stating these were the views of the presiding judges personally and not necessarily representing their bench," he said.
"Speaking on a personal level I oppose AB 1208," Hoff added. "But we have some on our bench that are supportive of AB 1208 so I thought it would be misleading."