Judicial Council makes offer to save SF Courts

August 26, 2011 7:21:49 PM PDT
There are new developments about the financially-strapped court system in San Francisco. With unprecedented employee layoffs and service cuts looming next month, state judiciary officials are making an offer they say will help control the bleeding red ink, but will it really?

The Judicial Council is a body which makes statewide policy and also administers the multi-billion-dollar budget for California's courts. Very much on their minds is the $350 million hit they're taking this fiscal year because of state budget cuts. They met on Friday in San Francisco, where its courts have been hit hardest of all.

San Francisco's court workers demonstrated outside the state building where the Judicial Council was meeting; 200 will be laid off in the fall, which is nearly 40 percent of the county's court employees. Twenty-five courtrooms in the civil division will close.

Timothy Lavorini is court clerk who testified. He said, "Unemployment and foreclosure have taken the place of 'to serve and uphold.'"

In a letter to the Judicial Council, San Francisco Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein said her court is facing a dire budget catastrophe. She is asking the staff of the Judicial Council, the AOC or Administrative Office of the Courts, for emergency funding of $20 million over the next three years.

"The Administrative Office of the Courts has $82 million that the legislature authorized it to use to backfill for the trial courts from its various pet project funds. It chose not to do that," said Feinstein.

Feinstein says she was poised to layoff 122 employees last year which would have mitigated the severity of the cutbacks this fiscal year.

"We received a midnight phone call from executives at the AOC encouraging us, imploring us, not to proceed with our layoffs," said said Feinstein.

She says those AOC executives told her they were expecting $230 million from the legislature which would help the courts. That money never came.

"We fell for it. We didn't layoff," said Feinstein.

And now, she's faced with even more layoffs. On Friday, a member of the Judicial Council said that they've made yet another offer to Feinstein.

"The ball is in San Francisco's court right now, as I understand it, to resolve this. We have a workable arrangement here that can keep the courts open," said Judicial Council Member Judge Burt Pines.

However, Feinstein told ABC7 that it is just another meaningless offer.

"In the last 24 hours, they've offered a token offer that essentially an offset, saying, 'We spend a portion of our reserves and they reimburse us the amount of those reserves.' It doesn't assist us in any way in being able to avoid the layoffs that we have planned," said Feinstein.

The Judicial Council declined our request for a camera interview and said instead in a prepared statement that they are working with San Francisco to come up for a budget solution for the next fiscal year, but Friday, Feinstein said the offer she received just doesn't work.


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