SACRAMENTO (CN) - A committee of judges and state administrators met Tuesday to evaluate the balance between central state control and local control of California's courts, in the long wake of 15-year-old landmark legislation centralizing court funding.
The committee was formed by Governor Jerry Brown and Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and met for the first time on election day. Aside from California's crippling budget crisis, their charge is further complicated by the unique financial circumstances and caseloads of each of the state's 58 trial courts, as well as the need to respect the autonomy of the local trial courts over their finances, a point stressed by judges on the committee.
By the end of the meeting, about the only thing the group knew for certain was that the judiciary cannot expect to get any more money out of Sacramento this year, a fact emphasized by Director of Finance Ada Matosantos.
"We're not looking to have a discussion about does the pie need to be bigger," she said, adding that the courts should also not expect to be able to keep their reserve funds, which the governor plans to sweep into a statewide pot. "We do not need to re-litigate decisions made by the legislature and governor related to the reserves," she said.
The 1997 bill established a system of statewide funding for the trial courts, which had previously been run by the county. The ultimate goal has been to stabilize and equalize funding for the courts and improve access to the court system. Cantil-Sakauye and Governor Brown formed the Trial Court Funding Workgroup last month to address funding disparities and perceived inefficiencies in trial court operations.
"We have a tremendous and unique opportunity to assess ourselves to see if we meet the goals of public access," Cantil-Sakauye said at the opening of the meeting. "All of us are at the beginning of a paradigm shift in how we view public funding and its use. And the judicial branch with its public trust has a responsibility to deliver this in the most fundamental, honest, wisest way."
"I must confess that I never thought I would have to return to this subject," said former Assemblyman and committee co-chair Phillip Isenberg, for whom the Trial Court Funding Act is named. "It's probably fair to say 30 to 40 years from now another group of people looking very much like us will be examining the question of the administration of justice and how it can be continued and improved in California."
Isenberg said a recentreview of the Administrative Office of the Courts by a group of 11 judges earlier this year could be a helpful guide for the committee.
"On the AOC and its relationship to local control-- what's the name of the report that battered around the AOC? The Strategic Evaluation Committee. I suspect that parts of that evaluation are directly on point on some of the issues that are going to come up. It would be useful as we walk through our process if the staff points out to us on matters raised that the SEC said this and such. It might be useful."