Judicial Council Launches First Phase of New Formula

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The governing body of California courts approved a $1.6 billion allocation of baseline funding for the state's trial courts on Thursday, using the first phase of a new formula for dividing up scarce funds.

The allocation of operating funds for the 58 county-based superior courts is for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which began July 1, and was adopted by the state Judicial Council at a meeting in San Francisco.

The $1.6 billion is about two-thirds of this year's total funding of $2.5 billion for the trial courts, which have sustained deep financial cuts during several years of state budget crises.

The remainder of the trials courts' total budget comes from separate state allocations to pay for items such as interpreters, jury costs and court-appointed lawyers for children.

The baseline funding includes $60 million restored to trial court budget by the Legislature in May.

But the restored amount, which court system chief fiscal officer Zlatko Theodorovic described as "a drop in the bucket" at one point in the meeting, still leaves the superior courts $201 million short of the amount received last year, on top of previous cuts of $214 million.

The new allocation formula, developed by an advisory committee of judges and court executives, takes account of varying court workloads that may have changed in recent years because of population growth or other factors.

The previous formula, used for the past 15 years, was based primarily on the share each superior court had in 1998, the year the state government took over court funding from the individual counties.

That approach didn't keep up with increased court workloads in counties where the population grew faster.

The new method is being phased in slowly. For this year, the council applied it to 10 percent of the baseline funding.

Another 10 percent will be added each year for the next four years until the new formula is used to allocate half of the funding, while the previous formula will be applied to the other half.

Any new funding provided by the Legislature will also be divided up according to the new formula. The $60 million granted in May is considered new funding, and so that amount was also allocated according to the new formula.

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who chairs the council, described the new formula "as a more equitable distribution model" for the trial courts.

"How our limited funding is allocated affects every court and every court user, as up and down our state we continue to see courthouse closures, reduced hours, and staff layoffs and furloughs," Cantil-Sakauye said in a statement.

Although all county superior courts will receive less money than last year, some will incur greater and others smaller reductions as a result of the new formula.

Within the Bay Area, the Contra Costa, Monterey, Solano and Sonoma county superior courts will receive slightly more funding than they would have under the old formula.

The gains range from $43,000 for Contra Costa County Superior Court, out of total baseline funding of $35 million, to $103,000 for the Solano County Superior Court, out of a total baseline funding of $17 million.

County superior courts that will have greater reductions than they would have had under the previous formula include Alameda, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz. Alameda, San Francisco and Santa Clara will each lose between $500,000 and $700,000 under the first phase of the new formula.

The total current allocations for those three superior courts are $73 million, $54 million and $74 million, respectively. The Judicial Council is made up of 15 judges, four lawyers and two legislators.

 

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