Judicial leaders took their proposal to close courthouses once a month to the Capitol on Wednesday, and the reception wasn’t pretty.
Representatives of law enforcement, labor groups and criminal defense attorneys stood before an Assembly budget subcommittee and proceeded to blast the idea while accusing the Administrative Office of the Courts of hatching the plan in secret. The critics also said court leaders have been too quick to jump to courthouse closures as a budget-cutting measure.
“We have not looked at every single possibility toward keeping those courtrooms open,” said Ignacio Hernandez, a lobbyist for the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice. “Everything has to be on the table.”
We bus the table, after the jump.
Everything, for many of the closure critics, includes $5 billion in bond funding for courthouse construction authorized last year by the Legislature. The money is supposed to fund 41 court rehab and new construction projects around the state in the coming years.
“There might be a way to look at [delaying] some of the projects that haven’t been started yet,” said Nick Warner, a lobbyist for the California State Sheriffs’ Association.
The Judicial Council unveiled the once-a-month closure proposal in April as a possible response to a planned $100 million budget cut. Labor groups, including those representing court bailiffs, have chafed at the notion of taking once-a-month furloughs and questioned whether the AOC can legally impose them.
Tapping courthouse construction money — an action that would take legislative approval — isn’t an option, AOC chief Bill Vickrey said.
“We are very strongly opposed to selling the future of the court system as a means of closing the [budget] gap,” he said.
But lawmakers didn’t seem keen on the idea of shuttering courthouses monthly for a year. And they asked to take a closer look at the judiciary’s books, particularly the amount of cash in each reserve account.
The situation may get much worse for the courts. The governor is expected to release a revised spending plan on Thursday that details massive cuts needed to close what could be a $21 billion budget deficit if measures on next Tuesday’s ballot fail.
— Cheryl Miller
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