SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - After narrowly passing California's Assembly, a bill intended to give more money to local trial courts and reduce the power of a big court bureaucracy is headed for a tough fight in the Senate.
The bill is opposed by California's chief justice and her allies control key positions in the Senate. But the author of AB 1208 predicts the same degree of difficulty in the Senate as in the Assembly.
"Members of the Senate are not pleased with the Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts and how they're managing their money," said Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon, a Democrat from Montebello.
His bill would reverse the centralization of budget and policy power achieved by the former chief justice, Ron George. Seeking to preserve that big shift of power, the current chief justice and the roughly 1,000-member administrative office under her command oppose a bill that takes away their control over the great purse represented by California's court budget.
On other hand, the bill is supported by a majority of trial judges, according to poll taken last year.
"In politics, it's who drinks the Kool Aid, who gets excited when the chief justice comes and visits you," said Calderon, referring to the deference often given to Cantil-Sakauye.
The lobbying campaign against the bill has put out "information that's misleading and false," he added. "I have to work through all that smoke and dust with each member."
The two most powerful legislators in the Legislature are Assembly Speaker John Perez, Democrat from Los Angeles, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Democrat from Sacramento.
Before the Assembly vote on AB 1208, the press secretary for Perez suggested he was leaning in favor, simply by noting that the Speaker tends to support Democratic bills.
In the Senate, Steinberg's staff gave no such sign.
"Basically the bill can be considered right up until the end of session," said press secretary Mark Hedlund. "This one would likely to go to Judiciary. Most Assembly bills won't be referred until we deal with our own bills."
Steinberg has a history of supporting the chief justice and the decisions of the gJudicial Council that operates under her leadership. As head of the Senate Rules Committee, Steinberg has the power to decide the bill's course through the Senate and what committee should consider the bill first.
The bill is widely expected to go to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Noreen Evans, Democrat from Santa Rosa, who has expressed strong support for the chief justice in the past. By tradition, Evans also occupies a non-voting seat on the courts' governing council.
"Once it gets out of the Assembly, it comes into the Senate and lands in my committee and I don't support the goals of this bill," Evans told the Judicial Council recently.
While those words could be interpreted to mean that Evans will kill the bill, Calderon was not so sure.
"The chair has been very vocal about how she thinks about the bill, but even she has been more willing to listen to the judges as they come to lobby her about the bill," Calderon said. "She wants to understand where the conflict is, because if you understand where the conflict is then there's possibility to find some resolution."
Evans and a number of senators failed to answer requests for an interview.