Monday, May 12, 2014

Is This How We Fund California's Courthouses?

The California Judicial system is in crisis mode. About $1.2 billion in budget cuts over the past decade have severely impacted the delivery of justice throughout California. Counties funded their courthouses until the late 1970‘s when the state consolidated them. The new system worked well until the state’s economy collapsed. County courthouses and education were cut the most from the general fund. Every county was affected. Los Angeles County closed 8 courthouses and 80 courtrooms, laid off 431 staffers in 2012 (1/10 of its employees), eliminated court reporters in civil cases, and converted many full time workers to part time employees, while cutting services. The sprawling San Bernardino County eliminated four courthouses, including Barstow, Big bear and Needles. Needles residents now seeking justice have to drive 3½ hours to the nearest courthouse. Kern County lost 27% of the base funding for its courthouses from 2008 to 2013. Long waits have ensued in civil cases, including family violence cases. Civil cases may take up to five years before going to trial. Justice delayed is justice denied. Court employees have gone seven years without a cost of living increases. Governor Brown has proposed a $105 million increase in next year’s budget for the county courthouses, but it is insufficient to stop the judicial hemorrhaging. Thus, alternative sources of funding are needed. The Los Angeles Times yesterday quoted California’s Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye remembering a garage sale by the Kings County Superior Court. That raises several possibilities. The most effective fundraising effort, guaranteed to cover all judicial expenses, would be to sell justice to the highest bidder. One of the basic maxims of law is The Golden Rule of Law: “He who has the gold makes the law.” Selling justice though is illegal, so that’s not a viable option. Another possibility would be the forfeiture of defendant’s property pursuant to existing forfeiture statutes. A million here, a million there, a couple of Beverly Hills mansions, and the budget problems would be solved. Of course, that too is probably unconstitutional because of the conflict of interest. California could still try it. Indulgences could be sold, but the Church might object. A judicial lottery would recognize the hard truth that Tort Law is raidly becoming a lottery system in California. Other proven fundraising efforts include: Car Washes – double price for judges’ cars and triple prices for lawyers Bake Sales Girl Scout Cookie Sales Brick sales. Sell the bricks around each courthouse for the names of donors and messages, such as “John Smith Top Gun DWI Attorney, 1-800 – You Fool.” Bingo – Seniors love bingo and serving on juries. It’s a natural. A potential gold mine is a book sale. Selling off all the old West Reporters, Cal Jurs, and Cal Apps could raise substantial sums. All their contents are available online for substantially less that the retail price. As long as the courts can pay their utility and West Law bills, they don’t need hard copy. Some of the courthouse artwork, prints, and frescoes could raise substantial sums. A sales and leaseback of courthouses with Goldman Sachs could raise substantial upfront moneys. Look to the tollroads around Chicago for guidance. A phonation offering tours of the courthouse and county jail could raise money. Cold calls to raise funds for solar panels on the courthouse roofs are a possibility. Explain that the courthouses need green to go green. Get out of jail free passes would be a best seller. The selling of justice would become institutionalized. Judges could retain Publishers Clearing House for fundraising advice. Orange County could raze the old historic Santa Ana Courthouse (made famous in Legally Blond) and replace it with a Walmart. Any other suggestions?

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