SF Court Strikes Deal to Save 100 Jobs

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) After four days of negotiations, financially desperate San Francisco Superior Court struck a deal with the judiciary’s central administrators that will save 100 jobs and keep 11 courtrooms open. The deal comes days after Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein said the Administrative Office of the Courts had offered only a “token” deal she had no intention of accepting.
     Almost 200 employees were expected to lose their jobs in October, and 25 courtrooms were slated for closure, after Feinstein announced last month that the court faced a $6 million deficit.
     In an announcement late Wednesday, Feinstein said the court will receive $2.5 million in emergency funding, after agreeing to accept $650,000 in grant money to partially fund two complex litigation departments.
     “The agreement would provide a $2.5 million infusion of emergency funds to the Court,” said the release. “The Court would agree to accept an existing $650,000 in grant money from the AOC which partially funds two complex litigation departments.”
     The announcement of the deal by the public information office for San Francisco’s court system was accompanied by a note saying Feinstein would not be commenting further on the agreement.
     The press release did not say why the emergency funding appears to tied to acceptance of a further grant, nor what strings are attached to use of the grant money nor any specifics on how the grant money is to be spent.
     The Administrative Office of the Courts has been criticized for using the award of funds to push pet projects and favor loyalists.
     In particular, the administrative office provides a controversial Court Case Management System for free if a court agrees to accept it. Otherwise, said court clerks, a court must pay for its own case management system out of its budget.
     The San Francisco deal is supposed to be put to a vote by the Judicial Council next month, but a rejection of the pact would be extraordinary.
     “I compromised on this temporary approach because there is momentum building among attorneys and lawmakers to achieve a long-term solution to inadequate trial court funding,” Feinstein said in a prepared statement. With the agreement, Feinstein said, “We would be able to offer more access to our civil justice system, but not as much as San Franciscans deserve.”
     Feinstein added that the agreement requires the AOC to commit to advocating for such revenue-generating measures as the local fee increases in complex litigation that it recommended the Judicial Council reject last week. Negotiations then extended into the weekend in order to reach a deal that broke the impasse.
     Feinstein also indicated that she supported the AOC’s solution to going to the legislature and Governor to ask that the trial courts receive more funding, with the support of the state’s attorneys.
     “We are working nonstop to move ahead in January with a legislative solution that has the backing and support of bar groups,” Judge Feinstein said. “It has become clear that if the current model of trial court funding leaves our Court – or any other Court – teetering on the brink of financial collapse, then we must actively explore a new funding scheme to sustain the third branch of government in California.”
     Feinstein added that without increased funding from the legislature, the court will face significant layoffs next year.

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