Legislative Analyst's Office

Analysis of the 2000-01 Budget Bill
Trial Court Funding (0450)

The Trial Court Funding item provides state funds for support of the state's trial courts. The budget proposes total expenditures in 2000-01 of $2 billion for support of the Trial Court Funding Program. This is $139 million, or 7.6 percent, greater than estimated current-year expenditures. Figure 1 shows proposed expenditures for the trial courts in the past, current, and budget years. The Trial Court Trust Fund is the main funding source for trial court activities, Figure 2 shows the sources of revenue for the fund.
Figure 1
Trial Court Funding Program
1998-99 Through 2000-01

(In Millions)







Trial court operations $1,456.8 $1,628.8 $1,743.6
Court interpreters 43.7 50.6 54.4
Superior court judges salaries 138.3 148.9 169.8
Assigned judges 18.3 16.3 16.3
Totals $1,657.1 $1,844.6 $1,984.1

Budget Request. The budget proposes a number of augmentations for support of the trial courts in 2000-01. The major proposals include the following:

Like all monies appropriated for support of the trial courts, the augmentations outlined above would be distributed to individual trial courts based on decisions of the Judicial Council. Thus, it is not possible at this time to determine which specific courts would receive the funds.

Next Steps in Trial Court Funding

Chapter 850, Statutes of 1997 (AB 233, Escutia and Pringle)--the Lockyer-Isenberg Trial Court Funding Act of 1997--shifted primary fiscal responsibility for support of the trial courts from counties to the state. The measure resulted in a major new financial responsibility for the state's General Fund.

As implementation of the new funding structure has proceeded, a number of issues have surfaced that will require clarification in additional legislation or in changes to budgeting practices. We outline three issues that we believe the Legislature and Governor should consider this year.

Clarification Needed on Undesignated Court-Related Fees

There are a number of fees collected by the trial courts that were not designated for either the courts or the counties by the 1997 trial court funding legislation. The amount of revenues generated by these fees and which entity, the courts or counties, are receiving the revenues is unknown. The Legislature should consider alternatives to ensure the fees are distributed fairly and uniformly across the state. We recommend that the Judicial Council report to the Legislature prior to budget hearings on its recommendations for resolving this issue.

Background. Chapter 850 and other recent trial court funding legislation made changes in the distribution and amount of court-related fees. An important part of the financing mechanism for the state's new fiscal responsibility for the trial courts was the requirement that local governments transfer a variety of court-related fees collected by trial courts and local governments to the state's trust fund.

However, Chapter 850 did not designate which entity--the state or local governments--would retain a number of court-related fees. Some of the undesignated court fees include fees for postponement, change of venue, filing for Writ of Execution, and the civil assessment fee. The amount of each fee varies from $1 to as much as $1,000.

Working Group Seeks to Determine Where Fee Revenues Should Go. An informal 12-member working group, composed of court executives and county administrators, was formed to determine how much revenue these undesignated fees generate and whether the state or counties should be receiving the funds.

The group identified and catalogued, by statute, all court-related fees not addressed in Chapter 850. The fees were placed in one of four categories. Three of the categories include fees in which the disposition of the fees (either state or counties) is clearly laid out in statute. The fourth category consists of revenues where the use or disposition is not specified. About 47 percent of the fees not addressed by Chapter 850 fall into this category.

There is a lack of information about (1) where fees in the fourth category are currently being deposited, with the trial courts or the counties; and (2) the total amount of fee revenues in question.

Need for Clarification. Although it is not readily apparent from an analytical standpoint which entity--the state or counties--is entitled to these funds, the situation should be clarified for two reasons. First, there should not be disparities as to how the revenues are treated throughout the state. Second, the state and counties should be able to factor these revenues into their planning processes.

Most important to resolving this issue is knowing how much revenue is involved and who is currently receiving it. Currently, there is little information regarding these questions, and it is unlikely that there is a statewide uniform disposition of the funds. The working group has not met since June 1999, and until it resumes working or the Legislature intervenes, the problem will remain.

In order to answer these questions, the Legislature has several alternatives:

In summary, we believe the revenue generated by these fees could be significant. It is important for the Legislature to consider a method for determining the amount and disposition of the undesignated fee revenues. Therefore, we recommend that the Judicial Council report to the Legislature, prior to budget hearings, on its recommendations to resolve this issue.

Mechanism Needed for Funding Trial Court Salary Increases

We recommend that the Judicial Council present the Legislature, prior to budget hearings, with options to fund costs of negotiated salary increases for trial court staff and court security personnel.

Background. Salaries for trial court employees and court security personnel (generally provided by county sheriffs) are determined locally, largely as a result of negotiations between county representatives and labor organizations. With state assumption of fiscal responsibility for the trial courts, the state has become the funding source for negotiated salary increases (NSIs) in the trial courts. In some cases, the full fiscal impacts of NSIs negotiated today are not realized until subsequent years.

The NSIs for 1998-99 were fully funded, either through budget appropriations or deficiency requests. However, it appears that the NSIs for 1999-00 have not been fully funded, principally because the timing of negotiations and implementation of local bargaining agreements does not fit well with the state's budget process. According to information provided by the Judicial Council, the current-year budget is short $20.5 million to fully fund NSIs. The Governor's budget proposes $20 million for NSIs for the budget year, but the Judicial Council indicates this amount is $13.5 million short of the amount needed to fully cover the costs.

Implications of Not Providing Full Funding. Unquestionably, trial courts will have to pay for NSIs whether they have been provided funding to do so or not. To the extent that the funds to pay for NSIs are not provided by the state, trial courts will have to cover the remaining unfunded cost by redirecting other resources. This may not be a problem for some courts to the extent that the courts can generate savings from reduced workload or more efficient operations.

We are concerned, however, about the extent to which courts redirect resources that the state provides to them for various specific programs and services. For example, the Governor's budget provides tens of millions of dollars for new programs related to jury service, children and families, and technology. Should the budgets of individual trial courts not include funds to cover NSIs, it is likely that funds provided for these new services will not be spent for the intended purpose, but rather redirected for NSIs.

The courts in San Diego County recently reported that their trial court funding allocations were not adequate to cover the full costs of their NSIs and that the courts would potentially have to redirect more than $3 million for these purposes.

NSI Funding Policy Needed. We believe that the state needs to develop an appropriate funding method for the trial courts to pay NSIs. Such a mechanism should allow the courts to fully pay for their commitments while also giving them the proper incentive to negotiate salary agreements that are cost-effective from the perspective of the state, given that the state is now responsible for funding NSIs.

Judicial Council projections for 2000-01 show that the average NSI in the courts will be 3.7 percent, indicating that funding the NSIs for trial courts are similar to those negotiated for state employees. Thus, the Legislature could set aside the same amounts for trial court NSIs as it does for state employees each year--in budget act Item 9800, for distribution by the Department of Finance. Such an arrangement may have the effect of giving an incentive to courts to negotiate increases that are similar or identical to the amounts negotiated for state employees.

Alternatively, the Legislature could provide a lump sum "NSI reserve" to the Judicial Council in the annual budget act with limitations that the funds be distributed only after NSIs are finalized and any amounts not specifically needed would revert to the General Fund.

Under any circumstances, the Legislature should encourage the trial courts and the Judicial Council's budget commission to time their negotiations so that NSIs could be implemented with the state budget process. We acknowledge this may be difficult, however, restructuring contract dates may lead to fewer deficiency requests for unexpected NSIs.

Analyst's Recommendation. The Legislature needs to consider a permanent approach to funding trial court NSIs. If funds are not provided for NSI costs, trial courts will likely redirect resources away from budgeted activities to pay for court employee salary increases. For this reason, we recommend that the Judicial Council present the Legislature with its list of options for dealing with this situation, including the pros and cons of each, prior to budget hearings.

Fiscal Analysis Needed of Employee Task Force
Recommendations Prior to Enactment of Legislation

The Task Force on Trial Court Employees has submitted to the Legislature its final report in which it recommends that trial court employees be considered employees of the court, rather than state or county employees. Legislation is required before this can occur. Before legislation is considered, we recommend that the Legislature direct the Judicial Council to submit a thorough fiscal analysis, including an identification of potential costs to the state, of the changes proposed in the task force report.

Background. Chapter 850 established the Task Force on Trial Court Employees to recommend an appropriate personnel and governance structure for trial court employees. The task force submitted its final report on December 31, 1999. The report contains the final recommendation that trial court employees become employees of the court, rather than county employees, as most are today.

The task force began by defining the term trial court employee and then outlining four options for their status: state employees, county employees, court employees, or other employees. All of the status options assumed that the employees would be managed by local trial courts and assumed a financing structure with the state as the principal funding source. After considering all options, the task force unanimously recommended that trial court employees be considered employees of the court, rather than of the state or counties; and have court employment status except for certain benefits, where they would be designated as county employees.

In formulating its recommendations, the task force assumed that state costs would not significantly change as a result of the new personnel structure. It also assumed that the new trial court employee personnel system would not require changes to federal law (such as for Social Security or Medicare). However, the task force did recognize that existing state law may need to be changed in order to implement the trial court personnel system.

The task force set out with the objective to not reduce the level of benefits of trial court employees as a result of the implementation of the trial court personnel system and to achieve a system with local flexibility and statewide applicability.

The task force was also required to submit the personnel system to the trial court employees for an advisory vote before issuing a final report to the Legislature. The task force was unable to complete the vote in advance of the final report of December 31, 1999. The report contains recommendations to the Legislature for conducting the employee advisory vote.

The task force will continue to meet through the first three months of 2000 to focus efforts on drafting legislation and educating interested parties on the recommendations.

Recommendation Raises Concerns. While the recommendations of the task force may be reasonable, we are concerned that there has been little analysis of the fiscal impact of the proposed changes. It is unclear what impact the task force recommendations would have on future salary and benefit adjustments for court employees. In addition, there are a number of administrative changes that may result in increased costs or savings to the state. For example, court costs currently include payments for county services, such as payroll processing. Whether or not these and other such administrative costs will change as a result of changes to the employee personnel system is unknown.

For this reason, we recommend that the Legislature require the Judicial Council to submit a thorough fiscal analysis, including the potential costs and/or savings of the proposal to the state, before it considers the task force's recommendations in legislation.

Budget Issues

Judicial Salary Increase Raises Broader Policy Issues

The budget requests $13.2 million for a 5 percent increase in judicial salaries and benefits for trial court judges and subordinate judicial officers. We recommend that the issue of judicial salary increases be referred to the Legislature's policy committees to consider along with other broader policy issues regarding recruitment and retention of judges and, thus, delete the proposed funding in the budget bill. (Reduce Item 0450-101-0932 by $13.2 million and Item 0450-111-0001 by the same amount.)

Background. In February 1998, the Judicial Council established a Task Force on the Quality of Justice. In an April 1999 report to the Judicial Council, the task force's Subcommittee on the Quality of Judicial Service outlined a number of changes designed to improve recruiting and retention of judicial officers. The report recommended increases to judicial officer salaries and noted that their salaries are currently 24 percent below comparable officials. The task force also suggested other ways to improve judicial service, most of which would require additional funding.

Budget Request. The budget requests $13.2 million for a 5 percent increase in salaries for judges and subordinate judicial officers. In addition, the Judicial budget (Item 0250) includes $843,000 to grant a similar increase to appellate justices. According to the Governor's budget, this increase is needed to attract and retain highly qualified judicial officers.

The proposed increase would be in addition to cost-of-living increases previously authorized for judges--2.5 percent effective June 30, 1999, 4 percent effective July 1, 1999, and 4 percent effective September 1, 2000. With this budget augmentation, judicial salaries will have increased about 16 percent between June 30, 1999 and September 1, 2000.

The proposed 5 percent salary increase would require enactment of a budget trailer bill.

Broader Policy Issues. We believe that recruiting and retaining qualified judicial officers is an important issue. We believe, however, that the Governor's proposal to provide a salary increase for judges raises broader policy issues that the Legislature may wish to consider in separate legislation.

The report of the Subcommittee on the Quality of Judicial Service makes clear that there are a number of ways to improve the recruitment and retention of judges that are not part of the budget proposal. Some of these include:

In addition, the report recommends that judicial salaries be set by an independent commission, similar to the current method used to set the salaries of the state's constitutional officers and the Legislature.

The Judicial Council advises that it will be sponsoring separate legislation to address some of the recommendations made by the subcommittee. We believe that the Legislature's policy committees should review the request for judicial salary increases along with these other proposals. If legislation is enacted, appropriate funding should be included in the bill.

For these reasons, we recommend that the Legislature delete funding for judicial salary increases in the amount of $13.2 million and instead refer this issue to the policy committees for further review.

Funds to Increase Juror Compensation Should Be Used to Test Other Reforms of Jury System

We recommend approval of $4.1 million proposed to assist trial courts in implementing one day/one trial jury systems. We further recommend that the Legislature not approve a proposed increase in juror compensation because the proposal is unlikely to have much impact on reducing juror dissatisfaction and improving the ability of courts to obtain adequate juror pools. Instead, we recommend that the funding proposed for the compensation increase ($12.7 million) be used to establish pilot projects to test various jury reforms.

Background. In May 1996, the Judicial Council released the final report of its Blue Ribbon Commission on Jury System Improvement. The commission's report concluded that the jury system is in crisis and that the crisis manifests itself in public dissatisfaction with the structure and operation of the jury system. Specifically, the Judicial Council noted that jury participation across the state is low and that courts must cope with public apathy towards jury service.

The report outlined more than 50 recommendations for improving the jury system covering a wide range of topics, including jury management and selection and the jury's deliberative function. Specific fiscal recommendations in the report included increasing juror fees from the current $5 per day to $40 per day, implementing a system of tax credits to employers who pay jurors their regular salaries during service, fully reimbursing juror mileage and parking, and reimbursing jurors for the costs of care of their dependents while serving on a jury.

One Day/One Trial. The report also recommended adoption of a one-day/one-trial jury system in which persons called for jury service report to court for one day and, unless impaneled that day, are dismissed.

Chapter 714, Statutes of 1998 (SB 1947, Lockyer) directed the Judicial Council to require courts to implement one-day/one-trial programs by January 1, 2000. Prior to passage of this bill, 24 countywide trial court systems had already implemented a one-day/one-trial system. The 1999-00 Budget Act included $1.2 million to fund implementation of one-day/one trial service in eight additional courts.

Budget Request. The budget requests $16.8 million from the General Fund to (1) fund additional costs associated with one-day/one-trial system implementation ($4.1 million) and (2) increase juror per diem rates from $5 to $12 per day ($12.7 million). These proposals are intended to increase jury summons response rates and overall public satisfaction with jury service.

Implementing One-Day/One-Trial Jury Service. The budget requests $4.1 million to assist the remaining 26 countywide trial court systems in new or continued implementation of one-day/one-trial systems. Costs associated with this program include additional staff and technology systems.

Increasing Juror Compensation. The budget requests $12.7 million to increase juror compensation from $5 per day to $12 for the second and subsequent days of jury service. Under the proposal, jurors would not be compensated for their first day of jury service. Trailer bill legislation will be required to implement this change.

The Judicial Council indicates that increasing jury compensation would address a number of issues raised by the Blue Ribbon Commission on jury system improvement. Specifically, the council points out that the current $5 per day sends the message to jurors that the state does not really value their time and creates a severe financial hardship for jurors that must take uncompensated time off from work to serve. In addition, the council points out that the current rate does not adequately cover the costs of round-trip transportation, parking, and meals for jurors.

We concur with the commission's conclusion that changes are needed in the state's jury system in order to reduce dissatisfaction and ensure public confidence. The public's concerns about the length of service, low compensation, and negative experiences while serving have led to difficulty in drawing a sufficient pool of jurors. Shrinking jury pools in turn decrease the likelihood of obtaining a representative cross-section of the community. Increasing jury summons response and service rates is crucial to maintaining an effective justice system. We believe that moving to the one day/one trial system will help in these areas and recommend approval of the $4.1 million proposed to assist the remaining 26 trial courts with implementation.

Increased Compensation Unlikely to Have Much Effect. We are concerned, however, about whether the proposed increase of $7 per day will really have much impact on addressing the issues of concern raised by the council.

First, it is unlikely that increasing juror compensation to $12 per day is sending a significantly different message to potential jurors about the value the state puts on their time. Given that the state cannot pay jurors the value they believe their service is worth, monetary compensation may not be the most appropriate way to show the state values the time of jurors.

Second, it is unlikely that those potential jurors, who would otherwise be excused from service due to financial hardship of service, would remain in the juror pool because of the proposed compensation increase. One court noted that 55 percent of the individuals summoned for jury service were excused because serving on jury duty would cause them a financial hardship. There has been no data provided by the Judicial Council to show that a $7 per day increase in compensation will result in fewer persons being excused due to financial hardship. The movement to one-day/one-trial service, which could significantly limit the number of days a juror will have to appear at the courthouse, will likely have a more significant effect in this area.

Third, although the proposed increase will help, it is unlikely to fully cover out-of-pocket expenses for transportation, parking, or meals. The costs to jurors varies considerably by location. In some cities $12 would not cover parking expenses and in some rural areas, parking is a lesser concern than transportation needs in general.

An Alternative Approach. We acknowledge that some of the required changes to increase juror satisfaction will cost money. However, given the limited impact that increasing the compensation levels will likely have, we believe that the proposed $12.7 million could be better used to improve the jury system by establishing a series of pilot projects to test various reforms. The results of these pilot projects would provide the data necessary to determine what motivates juror behavior and satisfaction.

Specifically, we suggest that pilot projects be established in counties of various size (urban, suburban, rural) using different jury compensation and reimbursement schemes. For example, pilot projects could be established in which jurors are compensated at various amounts (say, $30 to $50 per day); provided full or partial reimbursement for child care expenses; and provided full, round-trip mileage reimbursement.

We also believe it is important to include an evaluative component to these proposals. It is essential to evaluate whether fiscal reforms of the jury system meet the ultimate goals: to increase public satisfaction, reduce jury service apathy, and increase the ability of courts to seat juries.

Thus, we recommend that the Legislature deny the Judicial Council's proposal to spend $12.7 million for additional juror compensation and instead direct the council to use the funds to develop projects in at least three different court systems testing various alternatives.

Uncertainty About Costs of Elder Protective Orders

The budget requests $1.2 million to process increased elder protective orders that result from changes in law. Due to a high degree of uncertainty regarding how many new protective orders will be requested, we recommend the Legislature adopt budget bill language to restrict the use of these funds to solely provide elder protective orders so that any savings would revert to the General Fund.

Chapter 561, Statutes of 1999 (AB 59, Cedillo) expands the list of abuses for which elders and dependent adults may seek protective orders to include financial abuse. In addition, it expands the provisions of the Domestic Violence Protection Act to include protection for elders and dependent adults from abuse, by nonrelative cohabitants, through expanding the ability of judicial officers to issue emergency protective orders.

The new protective order for financial abuse and the expanded emergency protective order will likely increase the number of protective orders processed in the courts. Although the Governor's budget includes $1.2 million to cover the costs of processing these additional orders, the Judicial Council estimates the total increase in court costs could range from $235,000 to $2.3 million.

Analyst's Recommendation. We believe that it is possible that the amount requested could be substantially lower or higher than what will be needed. To the extent that the amount is too low, the Judicial Council can seek a deficiency allocation during the budget year. To the extent that it is too high, we think that savings should be captured and returned to the General Fund rather than permitting savings to be redirected to other unbudgeted activities. Thus, we recommend that the Legislature adopt budget bill language which would restrict the use of these funds to process elder protective orders only and provide that any savings revert to the General Fund.

Specifically, we recommend the following budget bill language:

The funds appropriated by this item include an augmentation of $1,175,000 for Court Operations related to Chapter 561, Statutes of 1999 (AB 59, Cedillo). It is the intent of the Legislature that these funds only be used for the processing of elder abuse protective orders. Any funds not used for this purpose shall revert to the General Fund.

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