State of Judiciary Address Put Off Calendar

     In a state of uncertainty and hard-ball budget negotiations, the California Legislature has canceled the State of the Judiciary address scheduled for the end of this month.

     The Legislature’s indefinite postponement of the address by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye follows her own postponement of the same address earlier this year. Both delays came with money matters in the background.
     “The address has been postponed at the request of the Legislature due to the ongoing nature of the budget discussions,” said an email sent Thursday from a representative for the Judicial Council to judicial invitees. “Please be reminded to cancel any travel arrangements made through our travel bureau.”
     Negotiations over California’s budget have taken center stage in Sacramento, overwhelming all other legislative business and generating national news coverage. Gov. Jerry Brown Jr. is said to have had a testy exchange with Democratic leaders at a meeting earlier this week that failed to resolve the budget impasse.
     The governor needs Republican votes in order to allow a tax extension measure to appear on a proposed September statewide ballot. Republican legislators in turn are pushing for a spending cap as well as pension and regulatory reform.
     In negotiations leading up to a budget proposal earlier this month, the Assembly passed a budget cutting the Judiciary’s budget of $150 million, which followed on the heels of an earlier cut of $200 million. Those cuts to a government branch already under severe fiscal pressure have been made amidst a poisonous political atmosphere for the judiciary.
      Continued spending of millions on an unpopular technical project pushed by the Administrative Office of the Courts has raised protests from legislators, who have also objected to the enormous size of the judiciary’s central administrative office and its willingness to give itself retroactive pay raises and other benefits in a time of fiscal hardship.
     The relationship between the branches is further complicated by a verbal fracas over a statement by Assembly majority leader Charles Calderon, a Democrat from the Los Angeles area, who made an indirect reference to the chief as an attractive person.
     That statement raised the ire of the leader of the women’s legislative caucus, Senator Noreen Evans, Democrat from Santa Rosa who also leads the Senate Judiciary Committee. In turn, that committee has voted largely in keeping with the preferences of the Judicial Council and Administrative Office of the Courts which take their legislative positions at the direction of the chief justice.
     Despite Calderon’s personally expressed regret at the interpretation of his remarks, the chief justice criticized him in a television interview in San Diego recently in statements that are said to have brought an angry reaction from the majority leader.
     In addition to the split between the chief justice and the majority leader, a second schism has further complicated the relationship between the Legislature and the judiciary.
     The second division is between the judiciary’s central bureaucracy and many of California’s trial judges who have supported legislation that would take the power to control court funds away from the central judicial administrators and give that power back to the local county courts.
     That legislation, AB 1208, was proposed by the majority leader and backed overwhelmingly by trial judges in Los Angeles. It is emphatically opposed by the chief justice, the Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts under her command.
     AB 1208 was quietly shifted to a slow two-year track last month, partly out of concern for the bill’s likely fate before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
      In an interview earlier this year, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye said she originally postponed her address to the Legislature because she wanted to talk about much more than the budget. But the budget remains the dominant matter in Sacramento and it has brought the Legislature, in its turn, to take the State of the Judiciary address off the calendar.
                                                                                                                    Maria Dinzeo is on vacation.

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