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Trial Court Fund Allocation Comes to Fore

(CN) - The knotty issue of how to allocate money among California trial courts is expected to be the focal point of today's Judicial Council meeting.

Council members on Friday will go over a report on the effects of a 15-year-old law that centralized court funding. The report by the Trial Court Funding Workgroup concludes that most goals of the Lockyer-Isenberg Trial Court Funding Act have been met, but equitable funding is the big exception.

"The workgroup finds that the judicial branch has substantially complied with the requirements of the act, achieving full completion of most of the requirements. The principal area found to be in need of improvement revolves around the allocation of funding to trial courts," the 250 page report concludes.

In its report, the workgroup points to a new funding model currently under development that is based primarily on the courts' workloads. But the report's authors did not endorse the new model.

Sacramento Presiding Judge Laurie Earl, head of a new funding methodology committee, said the amount of money trial courts receive hasn't changed since the mid-1990s.

"The current method of allocating money to the trial courts is based on your historical pro-rata share, whatever you came into state funding with in 1994-1995, and it's never been adjusted. What we're proposing is very different," she said. "It relies on data, rather than a historical perspective."

"The idea of forming that working group was eminently sensible because it reflected the Governor's appreciation that for 15 years the Judicial Council had done nothing to equalize the funding throughout the state, which was the primary reason for the state funding for the courts," said Judge Steve White of Sacramento.

Under the new model, a court's case filings will be given the heaviest consideration. "It's the one constant that every court has," Earl said.

The model also counts cost of labor, special services the court offers among other factors. But the adoption of a new model will inevitably lead to some courts losing out, sparking anxiety in a time of already shrinking budgets.

"My sense is I'm sure there's anxiety, but I don't think there's opposition," Earl said.

Courts with judges and head clerks who worked on the model, including Orange County, Santa Clara County, San Mateo County, will see their allocations reduced. Even Sacramento will be getting less.

"The subcommittee stands behind it because we understand the need to change the method," Earl said. "It's just not fair or equitable the way we're doing things. I think that there's support for the need to do something different."

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