Looks like things are starting to heat up in our little saga between the AOC and its critics who work to challenge the AOC’s imperial authority. In today’s Recorder Cheryl Miller reports that this time it’s the LA Superior Bench who have taken up the cause. At issue is the Immediate and Critical Needs Account. This is a new fund that was created last year to help fund the construction of courts and is funded by various fees and fines including a $30 fine levied on defendants at the time of sentencing. Turns out the ICNA fund has made a nice little sum for the AOC’s State Court Facilities Construction Fund and that hasn’t escaped the notice of people like LA Superior Court PJ Charles McCoy Jr who thinks it may be time for those monies to stay put in the counties they’re collected from.
But now, with courts statewide closing once a month because of budget cutbacks, some are publicly questioning whether that money would be better spent keeping existing courtrooms open instead of building new ones. In the most recent edition of The Bench, the California Judges Association’s newsletter, Los Angeles County Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles McCoy Jr. joined the fray.
The leader of the nation’s largest trial court — and a traditional source of mistrust of the AOC — suggested that courts be allowed temporarily to keep and spend fees generated locally instead of squirreling them away for future construction and bond costs.
“The $53 million per year collected in Los Angeles alone translates into nearly 1,000 jobs that can be saved on an ongoing basis,” McCoy told The Bench. He referred questions to a court spokesman.
The AOC could postpone selling the construction bonds for several years “while new construction is recognized as a lower priority than preserving court operations,” McCoy said.
This is not a new idea. Judges and employees in courts all over the state have been grumbling for years about the loss of local monies collected in order to feed the AOC’s statewide projects. What is new is that apart from employees and their representatives, this is the first time that members of the judicial bench have gone on record voicing the idea of keeping those funds within counties that need them.
As an example, one particular superior court attached a 25 cent fine to parking tickets collected in its municipality. The money collected was intended for the the court’s own fund. But when the AOC took over, guess what happened to those monies? That’s right. It went right to the AOC. To this day the people of this particular county see part of their parking fines collected going to the AOC which means the citizens of one county are possibly paying for construction projects in another county. And though I admit that there are counties that are in sore need of new court facilities, what do you do with those counties that don’t have constructions planned but are laying off employees?
However, Judge McCoy’s suggestion in his written piece is merely that. A suggestion. According to a court spokesperson it would appear he doesn’t believe it’s the place of the court to lobby for any new legislation that would make the changes he proposes. Which means that the grunt work will fall to unions and state employees to lobby the legislature. And the article goes on to say that those who plan on going after the AOC and its construction fund are going to face stiff competition from an AOC ally who will be joining the employment of the AOC.
If the AOC does go to battle over construction fees, it will have a key legislative figure on its side.
Shelley Curran, currently a policy adviser to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, will join the AOC in January, Vickrey confirmed Monday. Curran will, among other things, help launch the parolee re-entry courts created by the Legislature this summer in a package of prisons legislation.
Curran has been a staunch defender of the AOC and played a lead role in pushing the courts’ annual budget through the Legislature. She was also a strong advocate of the original legislation authorizing the courthouse construction bonds.
This should get very, very interesting.