SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – At its business meeting Friday, California’s Judicial Council approved a list of budget priorities for the courts that it hopes the Legislature will fund next year.
Funding for trial court operations, money to replace civil assessment revenue, courthouse security and dependency counsel ranked high on the list, but the spectrum covered technology projects and courthouse maintenance, to new judgeships and self-help centers for unrepresented litigants.
“It was unanimous that every single one of these budget-change proposals that came before us we thought was worthy of being funded,” said Judge David Rubin, who chairs the council’s budget committee. “We also were painfully aware that there would have to be some prioritization by this council even among these very critical proposals.” Rubin’s committee voted in June to recommend that the council accept the list with its rankings.
Judge Kyle Brodie of San Bernardino, who sits on both the council and the budget committee, said the list of budget proposals was filled with compromises.
“There were disagreements. Everyone was not in lock step; different people have different views of what the priorities of the branch are and how those are expressed through the budget change proposal process. In this dance that we do with the Department of Finance how do we weigh factors like the likelihood of success, and how much does the budget reflect the statement of our values as a branch? This is a product of that process.”
Another council member, Judge Samuel Feng of San Francisco, praised the committee’s work, adding that budget negotiations with Gov. Jerry Brown’s Department of Finance will be as delicate as always.
“It reminds me of watching YouTube video between a praying mantis and a black widow just dancing with each other, you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s every year,” he said.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said the council has a tough fight ahead with the finance department, and funding will probably end up all over the map, with high-priority items nixed in favor of initiatives preferred by the administration.
“This is a dialogue with the Department of Finance, and even though we’ll rank these, we still have to fight tooth and nail for them,” she said. “They will look at these and our priority is important for them but they have their priorities.”
The judiciary’s budget made only moderate gains this year, with a few noteworthy augmentations like $22 million for dependency counsel and $35.4 million to support the trial courts. It also included $5 million over two years to update case management software in Humboldt, Lake, Madera, Modoc, Plumas, Sierra, San Benito, Trinity, and Tuolumne counties; $7.1 million for trial court employee retirement and health benefit costs; and $5.1 million in pay raises and benefits for judges.
There were quite a few new faces in the audience at Friday’s meeting, as well as some familiar ones. Cantil-Sakauye welcomed the new members she appointed in June.
Judge Todd Bottke of Tehama County, who sat on the council as its California Judges Association representative, was reappointed as a voting member.
Assuming his old seat is Judge Stuart Rice of Los Angeles. Presiding Judge Patricia Lucas of Santa Clara, Judge Harold Hopp of Riverside, attorney Gretchen Nelson and Third Appellate District clerk Andrea Wallin-Rohmann are also joining the council as first-time members.
The chief justice also reappointed San Diego Superior Court head clerk Michael Roddy to a three-year term as an advisory member. He previously sat on the council from 2006-2011, a fraught period for the council that saw a number controversies and setbacks, from sharp cuts to court budgets during the height of the recession to a costly court technology project that was blasted by the California State Auditor for mismanagement and cost overruns.