One judge in particular comes to my mind as being on the forefront of the battle to redirect the AOC’s focus away from funding other projects such as computer systems and court construction and focusing them on maintaining current court services. That judge is the Hon. Charles W. McCoy, presiding judge of LA Superior Court.
Since the middle of 2009 Judge McCoy has given presentations for the legal community and offered his thoughts to the media on what the future holds for LA Superior courts if budget cuts were to continue or if deeper cuts to court budgets were implemented in his county. He spoke of the possibility of laying off 300 court employees, which would have a ripple effect of closing courtrooms and courthouses. According to news reports it takes about 10 court employees to run a court. And if those employees are let go, well it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens next.
Judge McCoy’s solution to this problem is his suggestion that the state temporarily halt revenue that would go into court construction and redirect it to county courts for trial court operations. The following passage is taken from an article printed in the Whittier Daily News:
One possible temporary solution would be to put off the sale of a $5 billion bond issue to build new courthouses.
The bond was to be paid off by increased fees and fines – already approved by the state Legislature.
“We could use the income stream for a short period of time to support the operations of the court,” McCoy said. “When we emerge from (the recession) we could redirect that income stream back to the bonds.”
Los Angeles County’s share would be about $73 million, McCoy said.
Judge McCoy has made it very clear that this diversion of court construction funds would be temporary and that once California emerged from the recession, funding would be redirected back to court construction. It would appear to me that he is of the opinion that court construction is fine and needed. However, maintaining current court services should probably be more of a priority.
Judge McCoy faces a rather daunting opposition. He is opposed by the California Administrative Office of the Courts, Chief Justice Ronald George and the Judicial Council, and at the time of the printing of the article mentioned above, 50 out of 58 presiding judges. Unions and other groups that would have an interest in court construction have also voiced their opposition at halting court construction.
Yet even with the knowledge that he faces an opposition with deep financial pockets and strong political ties, Judge McCoy remains firm in his determination to have the redirection of court construction funds solution considered and debated. And it is for his courageous, and I believe rational, stand that I nominate Judge McCoy for a Crystal Gavel award.
In conclusion I will end with a quote from an op-ed piece written by Judge Philip K. Mautino and printed in the Press Telegram.
What sense does it make to construct empty courtrooms if there are no personnel to operate them? We estimate each courtroom requires 10 employees plus a judicial officer. On July 1, we will lay off 500 employees and close 50 courtrooms, with more to come.
This matter should be debated in the Legislature starting in January. We ask every citizen to consider this issue and to express their views to their local legislators as to whether we could postpone the issuance of these bonds, and divert the interest money for court operations.