UPDATE – Additional San Francisco Superior Court Funding

The drama continues

AOC Agrees to Advocate for Local Revenue Solutions, Restoration of Trial Court Funding

SAN FRANCISCO — An emergency funding compromise reached with the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) would significantly reduce the San Francisco Superior Court’s staff layoffs from 177 to 75 and allow the Court to keep 11 civil courtrooms open, including both complex litigation departments, Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein announced today.

The agreement, which was struck after negotiations that began late last week and continued over the weekend, must be approved by the Judicial Council in a special meeting on September 9, 2011.

“This agreement represents a true compromise with the AOC to help the San Francisco Superior Court lessen the blow on access to justice,” Judge Feinstein said. “If the Judicial Council approves the terms of the agreement, our Court would reduce civil courtroom closures from 25 to 14 and lay off 15 percent instead of 40 percent of our staff.”

The emergency funding deal comes just four days after Judge Feinstein asked the Judicial Council to approve emergency funding for the Court, which faces a $6.23 million deficit for the current fiscal year and a cumulative $20.4 million deficit through FY 2013-2014. The agreement would provide a $2.5 million infusion of emergency funds to the Court. The Court would agree to accept an existing $650,000 in grant money from the AOC, which partially funds two complex litigation departments. The Court would save $4 million this year by laying off 75 employees.

“We could save some jobs, although not enough,” Judge Feinstein said. “We would be able to offer more access to our civil justice system, but not as much as San Franciscans deserve. I compromised on this temporary approach because there is momentum building among attorneys and lawmakers to achieve a long-term solution to inadequate trial court funding.”

Judge Feinstein emphasized that a significant part of the agreement would require a commitment from the AOC to advocate for revenue solutions, including restoration of judicial branch funding, review of uniform, statewide fee amounts and adoption of a fee for case management conferences in complex litigation matters that trial courts could charge and retain locally.

“We are working nonstop to move ahead in January with a legislative solution that has the backing and support of bar groups,” Judge Feinstein said. “It has become clear that if the current model of trial court funding leaves our Court – or any other Court – teetering on the brink of financial collapse, then we must actively explore a new funding scheme to sustain the third branch of government in California.”

The agreement would require the Court to continue to implement best practices with regard to collecting delinquent fees and fines. The Court also would agree to continue its efforts to implement cost-savings measures. While the agreement does not specifically require the Court to reduce its layoffs by a particular amount, it would require the Court to use necessary resources at its discretion to keep 11 courtrooms open.

“It’s exceedingly likely that if our allocation remains flat next year, we will be looking at significant layoffs again – which I do not want our Court to have to repeat,” Judge Feinstein said. “However this compromise allows us to seek legislative remedies with the AOC’s help to better position trial courts for the next fiscal year.”