Showdown in California Assembly over Judicial Council’s budgetary power over state’s courts set for next week

Angst and anger at the California Administrative Office of the Courts and the constitutionally-established Judicial Council will be coming to a head next week in the state’s Assembly. Under AB 1208, much of the Judicial Council’s power over local court budgeting and policy would be curtailed or ended with local courts given a veto over budget issues. According to an analysis written by the Assembly, AB 1208

  1. Deletes the existing provision of law that states that the Judicial Council shall retain the ultimate responsibility to adopt a budget and allocate funding for the trial courts and perform specified activities that best assure their ability to carry out their functions, promote implementation of statewide policies, and promote the immediate implementation of efficiencies and cost saving measures in court operations, in order to guarantee equal access to the courts.
  2. Deletes existing provisions which empower the Judicial Council to authorize a trial court to carry unexpended funds over from one fiscal year to the next, and instead provides that unexpended funds shall be the funds of that trial court, which may carry those unexpended funds over from one fiscal year to the next. Prohibits those funds from being reallocated or redirected without the consent of the management of the trial court.
  3. Requires the Judicial Council, or its designee, to allocate 100% of the funds appropriated for support of trial court operations according to each court’s share of statewide operational funding. Provides that all funds, once allocated, are funds of the trial court, and authorizes courts to transfer funds between functions, line items or programs as directed by management of the trial court.
  4. Deletes existing provisions relating to the manner in which the Judicial Council allocates funding for trial court operations, and instead requires that the amount allocated to each trial court from the amount appropriated for trial court operations be equal to the pro rata share of the prior fiscal year’s adjusted base budget, except as provided.
  5. Requires the Legislature, based on the information submitted in the Governor’s proposed budget, and prior to the allocation of funds to each local trial court, to specify, in each annual Budget Act, the funding amounts to be allocated for programs of statewide concern from the total funds appropriated for trial court operations by the Legislature.
  6. Prohibits the Judicial Council, or its designee, from withholding or expending any portion of the total funds appropriated for trial court operations by the Legislature for any statewide information technology or administrative infrastructure program that was not identified in the annual Budget Act, unless the Judicial Council, or its designee, first obtains the written approval of 66 2/3% of a proportional representation of all local trial courts as determined by the number of judges in each court.

Introduced in 2011, the bill has been stalled since May of last year, however time is running out. The state’s constitution (Art. IV, Sec. 10(c)) requires bills introduced in the first year of a legislative session be adopted by its originating house by January 31 of the second year. This is confirmed by the Assembly’s own deadline calendar as being Tuesday of next week.

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