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Talk of Compromise Vanishing on AB 1208

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A bill that would cut back on the purse string power of the court bureaucracy in California faces an increasingly uncertain future, with the Senate president pro tem showing no sign of interest in the measure and the chief justice turning down an offer to meet with the bill's backers.

Charles Calderon, majority leader in the state Assembly, sent his offer to sit down and talk about a potential compromise last week. The signals coming from the Senate president pro tem, however, were anything but auspicious for any meeting of the minds.

After the letter was sent out, a spokesperson for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told Courthouse News that Steinberg would not be able to attend, as he was expecting to be out of town on the scheduled meeting date of March 15. The spokesman added that no one in Steinberg's office had even heard of the proposed meeting.

Shortly afterwards, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye turned down the offer to meet, also citing her schedule.

"I appreciate the offer to meet, however it is not possible to arrange schedules by this date," wrote the chief justice in her reply. "You did not indicate that there were any time constraints that affected the timing of your meeting. I have a number of intervening engagements in and out of state and also am immersed in branch budget issues."

Calderon sent his invitation to the chief justice, the Senate president pro tem, the Assembly speaker, union representatives and trial judges who backed the bill. But what was shaping up to be a bargaining session has ground to a halt without the participation of Steinberg and Cantil-Sakauye.

"There hasn't been any meaningful communication," he said at the time. "It's all been posturing and tactics. I want to see if there's a way that we can address the issues that are dividing the courts."

His bill, AB 1208, was introduced in response to growing discontent among trial judges over money taken out of funds that are intended for the operation of the trial courts. Large sums were sent instead to support the central bureaucracy and a half-billion-dollar technology project.

The bill would require that 100 percent of money allocated by the Legislature for trial court operations actually go to the trial courts. The bill would thereby starve the central bureaucracy which has expanded dramatically since court funding and policy were consolidated 15 years ago.

Though it enjoyed strong support in the California Assembly, where it passed 41-25, Steinberg's statements and the reaction from his staff suggests a hard road for AB 1208 in the Senate.

In addition to the red lights from Steinberg, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill would land in the upper chamber, has said in no uncertain terms that she opposes the bill.

Senator Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, chair of the judiciary committee, told a meeting of the governing council for the courts, "Once it gets out of the Assembly, it comes into the Senate and lands in my committee, and I don't support the goals of this bill."

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