July 19, 2011

Administrative Office of the Courts proposes deep spending cuts in response to dramatic reduction in the judicial branch’s budget

We’ve been following the see-saw battle over funding for California’s courts, most recently in this post, regarding an interview in which the Chief Justice blasted the Legislature’s $350 million reduction to the judicial branch’s budget. According to a recent article in the Daily Journal [subscription required], the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) has responded to those massive cuts by issuing a 20-page report that proposes an 8.8 percent cut to trial courts’ budgets this year, and a 15.2 percent cut to the budgets of all judicial branch entities next year. The AOC has also recommended a one-year delay in the implementation of the expensive and controversial Court Case Management System (CCMS), which we’ve blogged about in the past, most recently here.

Some trial judges have reacted angrily to the AOC’s proposal to cut trial court budgets. The Alliance of California Judges, a group dedicated to the decentralization of court administration—and thus frequently at odds with the Judicial Council and the AOC—was vocal in its criticism of the report. According to the Daily Journal, the Alliance told its members in an email that the AOC’s proposal “shortchanges the trial courts in favor of its own operations and programs.” The Alliance suggested that, rather than cutting trial court budgets, the AOC should cut its own budget by “at least 50 percent.” The Alliance also renewed its call for the abandonment of the CCMS project, rather than the one year delay the AOC recommends.

As reflected in this article in the Metropolitan News Enterprise, the Judicial Council’s Trial Court Budget Working Group met with the appellate courts’ leadership on July 14 to discuss the AOC’s report and to make recommendations to the Judicial Council. After a seven-hour meeting, the groups adopted a modified version of the AOC’s proposals, one which places somewhat less of the burden on the trial courts and shifts somewhat more to the Judicial Council, AOC, Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal. Specifically, they voted to recommend reducing cuts to the trial courts from the proposed 8.8 percent to 6.7 percent for the next fiscal year. They also agreed to recommend “a 9.7 percent cut in funding for the California Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, and a 12 percent reduction in funding for the Judicial Council and AOC next year, with a 15.2 percent cut for all judicial branch entities for the following fiscal year.” The groups also voted to recommend the AOC’s proposal for a one year delay in implementation of CCMS.

Stay tuned—the Judicial Council meets this Friday to consider these recommendations and to make a final decision regarding how best to absorb the Legislature’s deep cuts.

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