Computer Glitch Stalls Civil Immigration Cases

A nationwide computer glitch has stalled thousands of civil lawsuits over immigration, according to a Dallas Morning News report that says a “… a month-long computer malfunction continues in the Dallas immigration courts and those around the nation. Even before the techno-problems, there was a significant back log of about 5,600 cases for the five judges of Dallas.”

The delays will no doubt draw attention to the differences between civil and criminal immigration systems, especially the fact that the criminal dockets and outcomes are much more transparent than civil actions taken by, or against, the government.

For example, the Morning News report includes information from a Syracuse University-based research group that “… already, a backlog of nearly 367,000 pending cases weights the immigration courts through March 2014…” The group says it hopes to bring transparency to the nation’s federal agencies, including the immigration courts where court filings aren’t public as they are in the federal criminal, civil and bankruptcy courts. The non-profit runs a massive fact-gathering system using the Freedom of Information Act, according to the Morning News.

Check it out on the Scoop Blog here: Computer hardware failure in immigration courts snarling some cases

California Ruling May Launch Many Eviction Lawsuits

Thousands of civil lawsuits can be expected in U.S. courts after a California ruling that banks foreclosing on homes that are being rented become, in effect, the new landlord – and thus subject to the same eviction rules as any other landlord. This is important in hundreds of thousands of cases where the banks simply evicted renters when they took over homes, sometimes on short notice and sometimes destroying property.

Businessweek has a report: “The ruling ‘says essentially that banks and other players in the mortgage industry have to play by the same rules as other property owners,’ said Richard Rothschild, an attorney for renter Rosario Nativi, who lost her possessions and Sunnyvale, California, home in 2009 after the homeowner defaulted on the mortgage, unbeknown to Nativi, and the bank acquired the property. Nativi’s lawsuit, which seeks damages for the loss of home and property, will proceed in state court in San Jose, California, he said.

During the housing bust, more than 200,000 tenants lost their homes in California alone. While this was a state court ruling, the California Supreme Court has let it stand and experts think it will trigger the issue in other states.

Fla. Funding People, Building – Not Tech So Much

As states wrestle with making people, facilities or technology a budget priority, Florida has come down on the side of placing tech on the back burner, according to analysis of the recently passed budget. The Law360 website reports that “.. Lisa Goodner, the administrator for the Florida state court system, said the legislators, who closed out the session on Friday, handed her ‘a very good budget,’ citing in particular the $8.1 million for employee retention and the $10 million for beginning construction of a new courthouse for the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

But the report continues to say that technology was a back-burner issue for this budget season and will likely become a higher priority next year. In particular, court officials say, the state’s high turnover in positions like court clerks helped fuel the budget talks.

Read the report here

Kansas Illustrating Court Budget Trends

The just-passed Kansas courts budgets illustrate several trends you can find, in differing degrees, in many statehouses this spring: Shifting control back to locals after years of centralized management; tying any new funding to specific reforms or specific spending, like new computer systems; and increasing filing fees in ways that will increase funding, but nobody knows how much. Oh, and of course the threat of lost jobs and reduced services accompanies those trends.

Kansas court officials told the Associated Press that they are “unsure” if the new budget will allow them to avoid “furloughs.” Lawmakers approved $2 million toward a shortfall of some $8.25 million, with another $4 million or so expected from new filing fees. But the first $3.1 million of that money is earmarked for a new electronic filing system, not the operational shortfalls.

Meanwhile, any of the increases are tied to reducing the state Supreme Court power. Under the new law, local courts will select their own management and deal with their own budgets. Critics contend that measure reduces the ability to “spread around” funding to meet shifting demands.

‘As goes California’ is a civil courts warning

With the nation’s largest trial court (Los Angeles) and a reputation for litigation, maybe it makes sense that California is leading the way in “court funding crisis.” In what may become a national talking point, given the Golden State’s influence, advocates of increased court funding are positioning the issue as a civil right debates.

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauyehas has taken the lead, telling lawmakers and anyone else who will listen that “… as long as the [judicial] branch is underfunded, we will continue to see harmful and astonishing delays.” She also pushes past the usual challenges facing criminal justice systems to cite civil court problems, like civil disputes involving business, discrimination, employment, family matters, foster care and personal injury.

“It’s tragic that 50 years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, California faces a different type of civil rights crisis,” she has said. “It is not about the law. It is about access to it.”

The topic is likely to heat up with California’s looming June budget deadlines. Last year’s budgets prompted street protests and this year, with the state carrying a surplus for the first time in years, will bring calls for reinstatement of previous funding. Speaking to a joint legislative session in the Assembly Chamber at the state capitol earlier this year, Cantil-Sakauye asked for partnership across the government to address what has been nearly half a billion dollars in cumulative budget cuts since 2008. She said the reductions have deprived more than 2 million Californians of access to a local court and have had a particularly negative effect on civil cases, which cede precedence to criminal justice.

You can read of her more recent budget-boosting efforts here.