SAN FRANCISCO—After hearing reports on the state budget and on progress in completing directives to restructure its staff agency, the Judicial Council approved a statewide water conservation plan, as well as a catalog of courtroom design layouts that will make court construction more efficient and cost-effective.
“This was a welcome meeting at the end of one fiscal year and the beginning of a new one,” said Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye. “We heard good news about the budget, a progress report on meeting recommendations to improve the Judicial Council, took steps to help the statewide drought, and approved recommendations to make courthouse construction more cost-effective. This has all been done from the bottom up, based on input from all of our advisory committees, public comment, and debate.”
The council approved a catalog of courtroom design layouts recommended by the Court Facilities Advisory Committee that will streamline the design process in court construction, saving time and money. “These layouts incorporate the best thinking and practical experience of judges and court staff across the state,” said Justice Brad R. Hill, chair of the Court Facilities Advisory Committee. Connecting this effort to ongoing efforts by the courthouse cost reduction subcommittee, which have identified savings of approximately $380 million to date, Justice Hill said, “We estimate that, just by saving time in the design process, these layouts will save as much as $1.5 million in project escalation costs, and employing these more cost-effective designs will save an additional $7 million across all of the projects.”
The council also approved a water conservation policy that sets forth best practices and long-term goals for new and existing courthouses.
The council heard updates on the state budget signed this week for fiscal year 2015–2016. The budget includes $3.7 billion for the judicial branch, of which $1.7 billion is from the General Fund, including approximately $180 million in new funding for the branch. Said the Chief Justice, “The second line of the Governor’s budget summary included the words, ‘increases spending on the judiciary’— words we’ve waited patiently for, and I’m glad that our efforts on innovation, transparency, and collaboration have been successful.”
Administrative Director Martin Hoshino summarized budget specifics for the coming fiscal year, noting that 97 percent of the new funding will go to the trial courts. “This is a good development, and certainly a positive outcome for our court system, but let's put it in context: We represent just 2.2 percent of the state budget. This is against a backdrop of rising healthcare costs, education funding guarantees, and a concerted effort on the state level to drive down debts and liabilities.”
Justice Douglas P. Miller, chair of the Executive and Planning Committee, reported progress in implementing the council’s directives made in response to recommendations made by Strategic Evaluation Committee three years ago. Progress on all directives was examined in depth during a recent two-day review. “Of the 151 Judicial Council restructuring directives, 114 are now considered complete or closed, and 37 directives are pending—and 23 of those 37 will be completed when the classification and compensation study concludes, which will be very soon,” Justice Miller said.
Other items on the June meeting agenda included:
Trial Court Allocations: The council considered a series of recommendations from its Trial Court Budget Advisory Committee for allocation of funds in the coming fiscal year. The council approved a recommendation to reduce the $90.6 million of new funding provided in the 2015 Budget Act by the existing $22.7 million revenue shortfall before allocating the monies using the Workload-Based Allocation and Funding Methodology. It also approved a recommendation to allocate $13.4 million included in the FY 2015–2016 state budget for trial courts that made progress towards meeting the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013 standard. This $13.4 million is a partial restoration of the $22 million funding reduction for trial court benefits costs called for in the 2014 Budget Act.
Recidivism Reduction Fund Court Grant Program: As part of the Budget Act of 2014, the Legislature directed the council to develop and administer a competitive grant program for trial courts that supports practices known to reduce adult offender recidivism. The council approved recommendations to allocate the $658,000 that remained after an initial round of awards was approved by the council on Feb 19, as well as an additional $1.3 million allocation included in the FY 2015–2016 state budget. The added funding expands the total number of courts participating in the program to 32.
2015 Language Need and Interpreter Use Study: The council approved the 2015 Language Need and Interpreter Use Study for submission to the Governor and Legislature. The study, conducted by the National Center for State Courts, details interpreter use in the trial courts in fiscal years 2009–2010 through 2012–2013 and projects future language need.
Implementation Steps Related to New Rule on Traffic Infraction Cases: The council approved amended notices to appear used in traffic citations as well as forms used for installment payment plans for traffic infractions. Recently adopted by the council, California Rules of Court, rule 4.105, requires that court notices and forms include information on procedures for appearing at court without deposit of bail in traffic infraction cases.