State-by-State 2011 Legislative Year in Review: California

New laws or resolutions affecting the courts enacted or adopted by the California legislature in 2011 include the following:

AB 110 Deletes language that triggers reductions in existing civil filing fees when the General Fund transfer to the Trial Court Trust Fund decreases in excess of 10% from the amount appropriated in the 2010-11 fiscal year, as specified. Creates a responsive filing fee for appeals of $325, modeled after similar fees in other states, to support appellate court operations. Appellate courts are disproportionately impacted by the budget reductions, as past court budget mitigation has focused on offsetting impacts to trial courts. Delays a study on the “default prove-up” process, which pertains to collections cases, by 2 years (from September 30, 2011, until September 30, 2013).

AB 118 Shifts charge on all criminal convictions for court security to instead go towards funding court operations. Creates Local Revenue Fund 2011 in the State Treasury. Creates the Trial Court Security Account within the Local Revenue Fund 2011 to fund trial court security provided by county sheriffs.

AB 126 Would require each member of the designated agency of the State Bar responsible for evaluation of judicial candidates to complete a minimum of 60 minutes of training in the areas of fairness and bias in the judicial appointments process at an orientation for new members, and an additional 60 minutes of that training during his or her service on that agency if the member serves more than one term. Revises the provision requiring the Governor, the designated agency, and the Administrative Office of the Courts to collect and release specified demographic data annually, as described above, to specifically require that the information be for the prior calendar year. Requires, with respect to the collection and release of demographic data, the State Bar and the Administrative Office of the Courts to use specified ethnic and racial categories, as those categories are defined by the United States Census Bureau for the 2010 Census for reporting purposes.

AB 973 Requires a trial court to also provide notification by electronic distribution to individuals who have subscribed to the court’s electronic distribution service. Requires those required notifications to include information on how the public may provide written comments during the 60-day period on the court’s plan for closing a courtroom, or closing or reducing the hours of clerks’ offices. Requires the court to review and consider all public comments received and immediately provide notice to the public and to the Judicial Council if the court’s plan changes as a result of the comments received or for any other reason. Requires, until January 1, 2017, each trial court, prior to adopting a baseline budget plan for the fiscal year, to provide the public notice of, and an opportunity for input on, the trial court’s proposed budget plan, as specified. Requires the court to allow public input by the submission of written comments or by holding a public hearing on the trial court’s proposed baseline budget plan. Requires the court, prior to conducting a public hearing, to make the proposed baseline budget plan available to the public and to provide notice of the hearing date, time, and location, and the opportunity to submit written comment.

AB 1028 Clarifies that both service credit and compensation earnable will be calculated as if a furloughed trial court employee were not subject to furlough for the purpose of determining a retirement allowance.

AB 1102 Includes the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, superior courts, and the Administrative Office of the Courts within the definition of state agency under the Whistleblower Protection Act. Provides, for purposes of Whistleblower Protection Act, “improper governmental activities” includes violations of a California Rule of Court.

SB 78 Requires Judicial Council report on California Case Management System annually until the completion and full implementation of the project. Requires Council hire outside reviewer to examine program. Creates California Judicial Branch Contract Law, which would apply specified provisions of the Public Contract Code applicable to state agencies and departments to specified contracts initially entered into or amended by judicial branch entities, as defined, on or after October 1, 2011, as provided. Requires contracts to be subject to review by the Bureau of State Audits and all administrative and infrastructure information technology projects of the Judicial Council to be subject to review by the California Technology Agency, as specified. Requires Judicial Council audits of trial courts determine compliance with the California Judicial Branch Contract Law. Keeps $40 fine in criminal proceedings for court security in place until 2013 when it would be reduced to $30. Deletes provisions allowing for additional decrease to $20 in future.

SB 92 AS AMENDED: Requires commencing no earlier than July 1, 2011, and no later than December 15, 2012, the State Auditor establish a pilot program to audit 6 trial courts, and based on the results of the pilot program, on or before December 15, 2013, commence audits of all trial courts, as provided. Requires that on or before December 15, 2013, and biennially thereafter, the State Auditor audit the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Habeas Corpus Resource Center, and the appellate courts. Provides these audits are in lieu of statutory requirement that the State Auditor on his or her assessment of the implementation of certain contracting provisions by the judicial branch.

SB 182 Adds gender identity and orientation to the list of demographic data provided by judicial applicants, nominees, appointees, justices, and judges required to be collected and released by the Governor, the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation (JNE Commission) of the State Bar, and the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).

SB 221 Increases small claims from $7,500 (generally) to $10,000 (generally).

SB 264 Repeals requirement that local public agencies file a record of all known or reported injuries incurred by skateboarders in a public skateboard park with the Judicial Council and the Council report on them.

SB 731 Clarifies that the vexatious litigant statute also applies to the Courts of Appeal and that the presiding justice or presiding judge is authorized to designate another justice or judge to act on his or her behalf in exercising the authority and responsibilities under the statute. Authorizes the presiding justice or presiding judge, or his or her designee, to order the clerk to give notice of a vexatious litigant’s status if the clerk mistakenly files the litigation without a prefiling order. Permits a vexatious litigant to file an application to vacate a prefiling order and remove his or her name from the Judicial Council’s list of vexatious litigants, if certain procedural requirements are met.