Governor’s $100 Million Restoration to Trial Court Budgets Hinges On Big If

As the saying goes. There’s good news, and then there’s bad news. However, in the case of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal for court budgets in the new fiscal year, state courts might have nothing but bad news. How come? Well, the governor proposes a funding increase for state courts that amount to $135.3 million dollars. And $100 million of that will be a restoration of cuts to court budgets from previous years.

So if trial courts get $100 million restored in the governor’s budget, how could that possibly be bad news? Well, trial courts will only see that $100 million if, and it’s a really big if, if California receives the federal funds that it’s seeking. In other words, the governor and California are hoping for the feds to help bail us out.

And what are the chances of that happening? Let’s ask the Magic 8 Ball.

Magic 8 Ball, will the feds write California a big fat check to help it avoid another disastrous budget year filled with possible cutbacks, slashed salaries, furloughs, and layoffs?

Yeah. I kinda figured you’d say that.

So if the feds don’t write us a check, the trial courts DO NOT get a $100 million increase, and they will instead face another $100 million reduction in trial court funding.  And then everyone is back to square one with all sides ready to square off over where the money should come from to prevent all of the negative events I asked Magic 8 Ball about above.

You can read the budget yourself by clicking here.

Smile For The Camera

In another court-related budget proposal, Governor Schwarzenegger proposed that red light runners caught on camera running red lights at intersections should also be fined for speeding.  So violators caught on camera would get hit with double fines.  One for running the red light and then another for speeding.  I’ve seen estimates for the speeding fine alone range from $225 to $325.  If implemented, the state could see something in the vicinity of $300 million a year that would go to help pay for the courts and for court security.

14 responses to “Governor’s $100 Million Restoration to Trial Court Budgets Hinges On Big If

  1. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    That’s preposterous. Speeding tickets are calculated based on the speed over the speed limit you are going. So if you’re going through a yellow light going red at 50MPH, technically your speed should be zero. Does that mean you get to have a two point wreckless driving citation attached to your one point for running a red light?

  2. Nathaniel Woodhull

    Having read it twice, the proposed Budget is incomprehensible, certainly as it relates to the proposal for the Judicial Branch. Obi-Wan mentions an interesting aspect. The Governor proposes that the Courts fund their budgets not only by photo red light enforcement, but now by photo radar. Two very bad concepts. The Legislature was sold a complete bill of goods on red light cameras. There are countless independent studies by reputable institutions that demonstrate red light cameras increase the numbers of traffic collisions, not decrease them. For and interesting read and view, check out:
    Now we are supposed to enforce photo radar?
    Can anybody say “conflict of interest”? Our budget is to depend on devices that many of us are ready to declare violate an individual’s fundamental right to confrontation of their accusors???

  3. Judicial Observer

    It now appears that judges’ actions in traffic court will be a key component to the budget solution this year. Wonder if they will have quotas to meet in their giving of fines?

    This will be another reason to advance CCMS. One of the “sales” points for CCMS a few years ago was that it would allow the AOC and other state agencies to monitor whether individual judges were properly assessing Restitution fines and collecting other fees. In other words, it will allow the AOC and other agencies to keep those pesky trial judges in line.

    Personally, I find it offensive that the use of a rehabilitative fiscal sentence (fines are supposed to be assessed to remind people that these is a consequence for their failure to obey a statute – and assessed in a “just” manner depending on the circumstances of each case and the ability of any defendant to pay) is now considered a budget solution. The pressure will be to fine everyone the maximum, regardless of circumstances or ability to pay, so that the courthouse doors can be kept open.

    And again, it ignores the systemic problem of the failure of the AOC to properly fund all the trial courts. I wonder only if this was the governor’s or the Chief’s idea, keeping in mind that the Chief has recently reminded us as a Judicial Council meeting to have trust he is control of the situation through his personal conversations with the Governor and the legislature.

    • Obi-Wan Kenobi

      Steve Jobs was previously well known for parking in handicapped spots because unlike the rest of us he can afford to.

      The system needs to be a little friendlier up front. With a uniform bail schedule the fine should be able to be written on the citation at the time of issuance with a standard 120 days to pay or appear.

      21 days to appear is problematic. Expensive citations guarantee the use of court services if for no other reason – to buy more time.

    • Obi-Wan Kenobi

      I have already heard an alameda county traffic judge indicate in instructions to defendants that he has “no judicial discretion to lower the amount of any traffic fines due to the Judicial Council – so don’t ask.”

      It appears those instructions to impose the stiff fines regardless of ones’ ability to pay them are already causing problems with the citizenry as well as the courts.

      While the Steve Jobs example above is a no-brainer, there are lots of people that are being forced to pony up these fines that they cannot afford to pay – or face a civil assessment of an additional $500.00 and the suspension of their driving privilege. The governors proposal about red light speeding would result in automatic license suspensions from the DMV. You cannot attend traffic court for a two or more point ticket and three points in a year gets you a license suspension.

      In 2007 Virginia started enacting civil penalties of between $750.00 – $3000.00 on top of traffic fines. Go 20 MPH over the speed limit? That ticket is going to cost you $1,301.00 and you have an automatic 26 months to pay it. Notably, these civil penalties only applied to Virginia residents and not other state residents.

      The law was so unpopular that the political uprising caused it to be repealed 6 months later – and all money collected in the program was refunded.

  4. I question how close the Governor and the Chief are anymore. I found it interesting that the Governor made it clear that $100 million in trial court funding would not be restored if California is unable to generate help in federal funds. Is the Chief now to lobby the Obama administration? Are trial courts the sacrificial lamb? He also threatened to heavily gut Kelso’s funding for the prison projects , so all this lovey-dovey stuff between and in the branches is over. Whatever they were thinking made sense during the Bush administration is not working now.

  5. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    Two issues I have with red light cameras.

    One – the ticket revenue to these systems is typically split with the manufacturers

    Two – and this is a little-known fact, they anticipate the distance you will travel given a specific point of measurement at a given speed.

    Do you want to make a system flash and make you believe you are actually in the intersection?

    Just approach one of these systems at night at varying speeds and apply the brakes at the last minute. The system will take your photo. This might lead one to believe they are actually in the intersection and as a result, continue to proceed forward through the red whereas if the flash part didn’t exist, one wouldn’t mistakenly believe they had already ran the light and proceed into the intersection.

    Testing shows the flash to be the dangerous part and the flash should be eliminated if they intend on keeping the cameras.

  6. Claire Voyant

    Obi, I’ll call Sheila tomorrow and have her add that flash removal feature to CCMS 🙂

  7. I would be interested in seeing more details and hearing from more about the radar systems.

    – Based on the amount of revenue expected it appears that most, if not all of the fine money would go to the courts/AOC. This is much different from the current distribution of traffic infraction fines. I could be wrong, but it is my understainding that only the security and conviction fees go directly to the courts. The fine revenue goes to the the counties and is split between the counties and issuing agencies. It is complicated but the courts benefit indirectly by county fine revenue. The counties have to pay a maintenance of effort MOE to the AOC based on the amount of fine revenue generated in 1996-97(?). If passed, it would require the courts to change the way they receipt fines and they way the counties distribute this revenue.

    – Do all red light cameras measure speed as well? If not, will it work? If it is a still photo, wouldn’t the prosecution not only have to prove the vehicle entered on a red light, but was moving? I know it sounds absurd and other jurisidictions may have already figured it out. But a commercial driver who may end up getting fired if he/she has one more point on their record is going to do whatever they must to beat the ticket.

    – If all of the money goes to the courts what is the incentive to cities to install these cameras? Even if the cameras are installed at vendor expense, is the city council going to risk the political backlash of having cameras installed that tap a driver for a $300+ fine when it won’t benefit the city?

    – It will be portrayed as a tax by conservative activists and politicians, and an invasion of privacy by Democrats and libertarians.

    – If the AOC thinks they are out of the woods because the budget restores $100 million and indentifies this red light idea as additional revenue, they may be mistaken. First, the $100 million only gets restored if the Feds pony up $6.9 billion. Good luck with that . . .
    Secondly, the $100 million will only bring the courts back to 08-09 funding levels if the court closures and other costs savings measures worked as well as the AOC thought and they continue into 10-11. This also assumes the legislature doesn’t hit the branch with another $168 million, like it did last year.

  8. Excellent points, moneywatcher! I’ve heard the opposition to the proposal are already lining up to kill it in the upcoming budget deliberations. Some of the arguments I’ve heard are exactly those that you’ve delineated here.

  9. Did not the press just catch the Governor and his wife in traffic infractions?

    Perhaps we should ask them to “volunteer”to pay for these infractons just as some have been asked to “volunteer”to a furlough.

    Good for the Goose; good for the Gander.

  10. I am not sure anyone else has mentioned this, but the Governor intends to fund trial court operations, which is typically a general fund expenditure, with $350 million transfer of redevelopment agency funds. The use of redevelopment funds in 10-11 to offest general fund expenses was included in last years 18 month budget. However, the most recent budget indentifies trial courts as the beneficiaries of the transfer for the first time.

    Using this transfer, the Governor can show a general fund savings of $350 million. Unfortunately, the counties, cities and redevelopment have already successfully challenged a similar transfer on constitutional grounds. The state dismissed its appeal of the decision.

    Furthermore, a lawsuit was filed challenging the diversion of the $350 million the governor wants to use for trial courts on the same grounds was filed in Sacramento Superior Court in October.

    If the lawsuit is successful, the Governor will either have to reduce trial court funding by $350 million or find another $350 million laying around to fill the budget hole.

  11. Moneywatcher – you’ve made some excellent and valid points here. If you look at the Governor’s budget in it’s entirety, it appears that all of the various lawsuits that have been filed and successfully challenged are essentially ignored in this budget. This budget is even more fraught with gimmicks than last year’s. A key difference though is that the Judiciary is heavily impacted by the gimmickry. We saw the first inclusion of the trial courts into this land of gimmicky budgets with $100 million attached to last year’s federal trigger. This year, it is far worse. It may be telling about how the Chief’s relationship is really faring with the Governor and how the Department of Finance really feels about the AOC. Rumor is that the Executive branch doesn’t have a whole lot of love for the Judicial branch.