(July 18, 2012) A California Chamber of Commerce-opposed “job killer” bill is dead for the year, having missed the legislative deadline to pass its policy committee in the second house.
AB 1208 (C. Calderon; D-Montebello) would have created uncertainty, inefficiency and unpredictability for litigants by decentralizing control of trial court funds, thereby further aggravating California’s reputation as a bad place to do business,
Although AB 1208 sought to provide legislative oversight to ensure state funds were being put to their best use, it would have allowed the Legislature to influence important decisions about the management of the judicial branch.
For example, AB 1208 deleted the Judicial Council’s mandate to allocate state funds to courts to “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.” Instead, the Judicial Council would have been required to mechanically prepare its annual budget request based on each court’s pro rata share of the adjusted base budget from the prior year, and all changes to this allocation would have required approval by the Legislature. In other words, it would have been up to the Legislature to prioritize funding and make substantive decisions about how to promote efficiencies and cost-saving measures for the judicial branch.
AB 1208 also would have eliminated the ability of the Judicial Council to reallocate trial court funds during the year “to ensure equal access to the trial courts by the public, to improve trial court operations, and to meet trial court emergencies.” Instead, any mid-year change to the allocation would have required an emergency act of the Legislature, or the written approval of 66 2/3% of the local trial court representatives. Not only would this have hindered the ability of the judicial branch to respond to emergencies, but it also would have made it possible for two or three courts in urban areas to control whether or not statewide projects get the funding they need.
Another troubling provision in AB 1208 was the allowance of a trial court to refuse to return any unused allocated funds. This means one court could have placed its own priorities ahead of those of the judicial branch and the larger interests of the state justice system.
California employers share the Legislature’s concerns regarding funds for the Judicial Branch being directed away from the courts, or spent inefficiently on the development of projects that have yet to be completed. However, the CalChamber is equally concerned with the solution proposed by AB 1208, which would have given the Legislature significant sway over the management of another branch of government, tied the hands of the Judicial Council, and kept it from serving its most critical function of promoting uniformity among the courts.
Employers depend on the reliable and efficient administration of justice, something California already struggles to provide, as evidenced by the state’s consistently rock-bottom rankings for fairness of its justice system by the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform. AB 1208 would have made the situation worse, increasing the costs and risks of litigating in the state, and driving more employers and the jobs they provide to other states.