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A suggested proposal from a commission to replace court reporters with electronic recording raises concerns about Governor’s proposed budget.
Governor Brown released his proposed budget for 2016 today and what will be of most concern to court reporters is that Governor Brown is proposing an “innovation” of using digital recording machines in place of court reporters in Family Law courts.
We are still in the early stages of the budgetary process, but rest assured your COCRA team will be monitoring the budget process as it progresses.
The following is an early analysis from Michele Castro, Director of Government Relations at SEIU California. SEIU represents the majority of court employees in California including official court reporters.
Earlier today the Governor released his proposed 2016 budget. It’s not as good as previous years in terms of reinvesting in the courts and it does have a few issues that could be particularly concerning to SEIU members.
In his last two budgets, Governor included a 5% increase each year for the courts. This year, he took a different direction. This year, the Governor cites the need to improve the trial courts by doing business differently. He makes reference to the Commission on the Future of the California Court System to recommend efficiencies and innovations.
From early information coming out of the Commission, we know that some of these proposals will not be good for workers, such as moving HR functions from courts and to the AOC and changing court employee status. The upshot is that any of these proposals would have to go through the legislative process where SEIU members have a strong chance of beating back bad ideas coming out the AOC.
Additionally, the Governor proposes to reform the current trial court budget reserve policy, which was recently instituted because courts were hoarding money while laying-off workers. Depending how this reform would occur it could be good for us or it could be bad. We’ll need to watch the details of the proposal closely.
The Governor proposes to increase funding to the trial courts by $95.8 million as follows:
$20 million to the courts for discretionary spending.
$15.6 million for the employer share of employee pensions and health benefit increases. The Governor also stated that he is committed to continue to cover the costs of employee pensions and health benefits in the future.
$8.8 million to cover the loss of funds due to lower fee and fine revenues. Several fees and fines that are currently funding the courts are set to expire; however, the Governor is committed to extending those revenue measures.
$21.4 million to cover increased Prop 47 workload demands in the trial courts.
$7 million for language access for non-english speakers.
$30 million in one-time funds in competitive grants to courts that implement innovations.
The Governor lists possible innovations such as implementing the use of kiosks rather than clerks in traffic proceedings and using electronic recording devices in family law proceedings rather than court reporters.
The Governor does not necessarily say this is what courts should do, only lists them as ideas that very likely came from the AOC.
COCRA congratulates the three winners of our 2016 Early Membership Renewal Drawing.
The three winners of a $100 Target gift card are:
Rhonda Guess, San Mateo
Jenell Mullane, San Mateo
Loretta Najera, San Francisco
COCRA also extends a very special thank you to the following members who, in addition to their early membership renewal, made very generous donations to COCRA this year.
Linda Harris, $100
Kristi Johnson, $100
Holly Moose, $100
Florence Ortiz, $100
Anne Hall, $200
We thank all of you who renewed your membership early this year.
Your COCRA Dues Help Us to Promote, Protect, and Preserve Our Profession!
Your membership dues are an investment in COCRA and is a clear sign that you believe in our mission, leadership, and presence in the California official court reporting community. By renewing with us, you show your commitment to the future of official court reporting and demonstrate your concern for our profession.
COCRA does important work on behalf of official court reporters. We know we can’t achieve anything without your financial support. We here at COCRA recognize the difficult times that we live in and that every dollar counts. So we truly appreciate your support and belief in us.
We appreciate your support of the California Official Court Reporters Association.
It is with deep sadness and heavy hearts that COCRA must announce the untimely passing of one of our founding members, Pamela Fisk.
Pam started her career as a court reporter in 1968. Shortly thereafter, she decided working in court was her passion and began employment for the San Mateo County Municipal Court where she worked for several years. Pam, being the consummate traveler, decided it was time for her and her husband Roger and their beautiful daughter Erin to take their life on the road where they ultimately landed in Washington State.
After a couple years, Pam decided to come back to her roots in Redwood City and rejoined the courts in San Mateo County, this time in Superior Court, where she would embark on what would be an illustrious 30 years of service as an Official Court Reporter working with primarily the Honorable Judith Whitmer Kozloski.
Pam reported many high profile cases, including taking the lead on many death penalty cases. But what made Pam special to her colleagues and court reporters statewide was her unending dedication and advocacy to the profession and specifically to preserving official court reporters.
In 1999, Pam and a small group of official court reporters gathered in her living room to form a new statewide association for official reporters called the California Official Court Reporters Association (COCRA). Even after her retirement in 2005, Pam stayed involved with the association, always there to protect its mission, which is to protect and advance the profession of official court reporters through education and legislative advocacy.
Pam was also a leader among her peers where she held the position of president of the San Mateo County Court Reporters Association for many years as well as taking on the role of union steward and helped to negotiate many successful contracts.
Throughout all the years, perhaps Pam’s greatest accomplishment and what made her the most proud was being surrounded by her beautiful family, whom she loved so much.
We will miss you terribly, Pam. You will forever be in our hearts and your spirit will live on in the court reporting community as you have forever made an imprint in the profession you loved so much.
Governor Brown has released his proposed budget and there appears to be some good news for the courts. COCRA will be monitoring the budget situation to assess whether the proposed budget will benefit court reporters.
Here are the significant adjustments to the judicial budget proposed by the governor.
Trial Court Funding
Consistent with the proposed two‐year strategy, the Budget includes an augmentation of $90.1 million General Fund to support trial court operations.
Trial Court Employee Costs
The Budget includes $42.7 million General Fund for trial court employee benefit costs, of which $10.8 million reflects funding for trial courts that have now made progress towards meeting the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013 standard. The Administration is committed to funding future increases related to existing health benefits and retirement costs for trial court employees and retirees.
Trial Court Trust Fund Revenues
The Budget includes an additional $19.8 million General Fund to reflect a further reduction of fines and penalty revenues in 2015‐16. Coinciding with this adjustment, the Administration proposes permanently extending temporary fines and penalty revenue measures enacted as part of the 2012 Budget Act.
With the passage of Proposition 47 in November 2014, it is anticipated that trial courts will experience increased workload primarily in the early years of implementation due to the requirement that courts reclassify certain drug and theft crimes that involve less than $950 from felonies to misdemeanors.
The Budget includes $26.9 million General Fund to reflect a projected increase in trial court workload.
The Budget proposes the establishment of an 18‐month outstanding delinquent debt amnesty program that would be administered by the courts and counties. Courts and counties would recover their costs to administer the amnesty program utilizing revenues collected through the program.
Dependency Counsel Funding
The Administration recognizes the important role played by counsel who represent abused and neglected children and their parents in dependency cases. The Judicial Council’s current annual budget allocation for court‐appointed dependency counsel is $103.7 million. Over the last several years, the Council has evaluated the workload of dependency lawyers and recommended a basic caseload standard of 188 cases per attorney. An improvement in attorney caseload would reduce hearing delays and potentially shorten time to permanency for families. The current statewide average caseload is 248 cases per attorney. Many counties fall well within the standard but others far exceed it. Judicial Council allocations to courts are based on historical factors rather than on current caseloads. The Administration will work with the Judicial Council to develop a caseload‐based allocation methodology and explore ways to reduce the number of cases.
Critics of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), the government agency in charge of supervising the running of California’s court system, have long argued that the AOC was completely mismanaged and had grown so unwieldy in terms of size and scope and spending that an audit was needed.
An audit of the AOC indeed was ordered and today the California State Auditor’s office released its findings confirming all of the worst suspicions that the AOC’s critics had of the agency.
Some of the damning highlights of the audit released today revealed:
The Judicial Council did not adequately oversee the AOC in managing the judicial branch budget, which allowed the AOC to engage in questionable compensation and business practices.
Provides its staff with generous salaries and benefits—the AOC pays eight of its nine office directors more than the governor and many other high-ranking executive branch officials receive.
Employs over 70 contractors and temporary employees and could save about $7.2 million per year by using state employees in comparable positions.
Maintains a fleet of 66 vehicles without requiring its offices to justify the need.
Made about $386 million in payments over the last four years on behalf of trial courts using funds appropriated to them but could have paid a portion of those payments from its own funds.
The AOC has sole autonomy in deciding how to spend certain judicial branch funds due to the lack of Judicial Council’s involvement in the budgeting process.
The AOC has few policies, procedures, or controls in place to ensure funds are appropriately used and spent and, unlike the executive branch, is not required to undergo an annual independent financial audit.
Although it provides services to the courts, the AOC has never comprehensively surveyed the courts to identify the needs of the courts and ensure that services it provides are useful.
You can read the highlights of the audit here including some of the recommendations that the audit proposed. The full audit may be read here.
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“…Court reporters who provide transcripts of hearings have been eliminated for civil cases in many counties, making it more difficult for the losing party to appeal.”
“…recession-driven cutbacks in California’s huge court system have produced long lines and short tempers at courthouses throughout the state. Civil cases are facing growing delays in getting to trial, and court closures have forced residents in some counties to drive several hours for an appearance.”
(Don Barletti, Los Angeles Times) Amanda Lugo, a legal processing assistant, searches for a case file in the criminal clerk’s office at the Superior Court in Victorville, Calif. Budget cuts recently closed the Barstow Superior Court, bringing hundreds of cases to this court.
ATTENTION OFFICIAL REPORTERS: We are hearing from various sources that the AOC will once again be moving legislatively to limit the transcripts that are produced in preliminary hearings. Specifically, the AOC is looking to limit automatically prepared transcripts in preliminary hearings to homicide related matters only.
We are working with our contacts in Sacramento to obtain more information about the AOC’s plans and we promise to update you as soon as we get a fuller picture of what the AOC plans to do.
UPDATE: Here’s analysis language that details what the AOC would like to see implemented. Keep in mind, the end game is that the AOC wants to shift the transcript costs onto the attorneys for the prosecution and the defense.
3. Preliminary Hearing Transcripts. Courts are currently required to purchase preliminary hearing transcripts from certified court reporters and provide them to attorneys In all felony cases. In all other cases, the courts purchase transcripts upon the request of parties. Under the proposed change, courts would only be required to provide preliminary hearing transcripts to attorneys in homicide cases. Transcripts would continue to be provided upon request for all other case types. This change reduces costs as the court will no longer be required to purchase copies of all non-homicide felony cases from the court’s certified court reporter, but will only need to purchase them when specifically requested.