No Alternative for California Judicial Council’s Shortfall

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – With California’s Judicial Council facing a $22.7 million revenue shortfall that will likely be backfilled or funded, a committee declined Wednesday to offer an alternative recommendation on allocation.
     At its meeting Wednesday led by Court Executive Officer Jake Chatters, the second this year to be open to the press and public, the Trial Court Budget Advisory Committee (TCBAC) deftly bypassed the option to revisit the original four allocation options.
     Instead, members narrowed their focus to the two pro-rata 2014-15 base allocation scenarios.
     Adoption of the second scenario means a 2 percent increase for San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Siskiyou, Stanislaus, Tehama, and Tulare counties over the first scenario.
     Several brutal years of ongoing budget cuts meant that courts continued to eke by in the first six months of 2014, until approval of a $60 million budget boost in July.
     In April, the Judicial Council had directed its staff to submit a finance letter for fiscal year 2014-15 to the state Department of Finance (DOF) requesting $70 million from the General Fund to address the shortfall in Trial Court Trust Fund revenues that sustains courts base distribution for operations.
     A sharp decline in projected revenues stemming from the decline in paid, initial paper civil filings, as well as court operations evaluation on criminal convictions, primarily caused the shortfall.
     In May, Gov. Jerry Brown revised the proposal to provide $30.9 million to backfill the impending loss of revenue leaving the courts with an expected $22.7 million deficit.
     During its July meeting , after considering the four recommendations of the TCBAC, the Judicial Counsel decided against addressing the projected $22.7 million shortfall. The council instead will send the DOF a request at the end of September to address any deficiencies.
     Also during its July meeting, the Judicial Counsel decided how it would allocate the $22.7 million shortfall with the option exercised today to have the TCBAC propose a different allocation method for consideration during its October meeting.
     The results of today’s decision means that the Judicial Council will proceed with its adopted allocation method, based on a pro rata share of the 2014-2015 base allocation, minus individual court’s 2011-2012 non-sheriff security allocation.
     During the discussion, all committee members agreed that “the overall goal in deciding how to allocate funds should be true to their original intent … provide more of an allocation in relation to workload.”
     Earlier this year, presiding Judge Brian Walsh of Santa Clara had said to “please remember that efficiency and justice don’t always equate.”
     “We’re committed as a branch and committed as trial courts to efficiencies,” he said. “We will never stop developing those and benefiting from them, but we can’t efficiency our way out of a deep budget reduction, because people get hurt and justice gets hurt.”
     In unanimously agreeing not to develop a policy on how to allocate funding reductions in the future, the TCBAC found that its members should be able to consider the unique circumstances and the type of reduction involved.
     No one addressed the only comment from the public because someone submitted it in writing five minutes before the meeting started.
     The meeting was only the second afforded public access after Gov. Brown axed a provision initiated by the state Legislature earlier this year to open up all of the council’s advisory committee and subcommittee meetings.

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