Calif. judicial council rejects new fee proposal

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Aug 30, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) -- The Judicial Council of California, at a public meeting Friday, voted down a proposal to authorize new fees in complex civil cases.

The council is the policymaking body of the California courts, the largest court system in the nation.

The Bar Association of San Francisco had requested to amend a statewide rule of court, rule 10.815, to authorize trial courts to establish a new fee for the appearance of each attorney at a case management conference in a complex civil case.

Rule 10.815 implements Government Code section 70631, which authorizes courts to charge a reasonable cost-recovery fee for providing a service or product in the absence of a statute or rule authorizing or prohibiting a fee for the particular service or product.

That is, if the judicial council approves it.

The fee, in this case, was intended to help offset a $350 billion budget reduction and to provide additional funding to California's 58 trial courts.

The council rejected the bar's proposal by a vote of 16-1. State Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and Justice Marvin Baxter abstained from the vote, in case the issue comes before the state's high court.

The council, acting on the recommendation of its general counsel, said amending the rule as requested would likely be inconsistent with state law.

However, the state Legislature could enact the fee by statute, it said.

The judicial council did agree to study the possibility of other new fees to help offset the budget reduction.

It also voted that its top budget priority will be to seek restoration of some level of the budget reduction in the judicial branch budget for fiscal year 2011-12.

The budget cut, passed by the Legislature and approved by Gov. Jerry Brown this year, is the deepest reduction in state court history.

In other action Friday, the judicial council:

- Approved proposed fiscal year 2012-13 budget requests for the Supreme Court, courts of appeal, trial courts, and judicial council/administrative office of the courts;

- Approved the allocation of nearly $17.7 million in operational funding and $1.149 million in court security-related funding contained in the Budget Act of 2011;

- Approved a recommendation to allocate $7.4 million to trial courts for the replacement of personal computers and printers, and also authorizes courts to redirect these funds to offset the impact of budget reductions this fiscal year;

- Accepted four audit reports on the financial practices and operations of the Superior Courts of Amador, Imperial, Inyo and Sonoma counties;

- Adopted a Judicial Branch Contracting Manual that addresses the procurement of goods and services by judicial branch entities effective Oct. 1;

- Authorized two positions for subordinate judicial officers at the Superior Court of San Bernardino Court; and

- Approved a budget of $30 million for statewide court facility modifications and planning in fiscal year 2011-12. The majority of the funding approved, $22.5 million, will cover unplanned disruptions and emergencies in court facilities, such as fires and floods. The council also adopted a prioritized list of facility modifications, which ranks hundreds of needed facility modifications according to their relative criticality and necessity.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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