Judges Talk Ideas for|Future of Calif. Courts

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – At its first public comment session Tuesday, California’s commission for the future of its courts heard from lawyers, union reps and judges on court funding, and also tried to put to bed the notion of centralizing more local court operations.
     “There has never been the concept of human resources operations being removed from trial courts and centralized at the Judicial Council discussed,” Fourth Appellate District Presiding Justice Kathleen O’Leary, a Futures Commission executive member, said. “But I understand there has been tremendous misinformation that has been communicated to a number of people.”
     That idea was allegedly broached by members of the commission’s Fiscal/Court Administration Working Group, which O’Leary chairs, and sparked widespread condemnation among trial judges concerned about a power play to strip courts of their state-mandated authority to handle their own employees.
     The commission, chaired by California Supreme Court Justice Carol Corrigan, was set up last year by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to find ways of saving money in the operation of California’s courts.
     O’Leary’s remarks came in direct response to comments made Tuesday by the Service Employees International Union and local court employees. Jim Wise, a records clerk in Solano County Superior Court said, “We have a good working relationship with our individual courts to try to centralize that would be detriment to the structure. The way things are running now works.”
     “We would really suggest sticking with the current employment structure as opposed to the rumor of shifting it to a centralized feature,” union member Kimberly Rosenberger said. “It is actually very cost-efficient and stable and shifting it away from that would really be a detriment to the courts.”
     But the human resources issue took up only a minuscule portion of Tuesday’s meeting, where the commission focused on judgeships, the need for a stable court funding source and the possibility of decriminalizing traffic violations to reduce court workload.
     While the commission had budgeted an entire afternoon for comment, the lack of in-person speakers made for a relatively brief session.
     Riverside County Presiding Judge Harold Hopp, whose county has been down 50 judgeships for at least 10 years, suggested the judiciary come up with a solid plan for distributing newly funded judgeships.
     “We would sell it better to the Legislature and the governor if we explained that we have a controlled criteria about how we will figure out where the funded positions should be,” Hopp said, adding, “I would encourage you to come up with a mechanism that spreads the challenge of dealing with not having enough positions as widely as possible.”
     Hopp was one of two judges who spoke at the meeting. The other was Presiding Judge Jonathan Conklin of Fresno, who addressed the commission on the issue of trial court funding.
     “The instability of the budget over the years has been almost insurmountable to plan for,” Conklin said, noting that his court was forced to close all of its regional courthouses at the height of the state’s budget crisis.
     “I wish I had a productive suggestion for you. I wish I had solution. If I did I’m not sure this commission would have much more of a task left to do.”

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