The American Bar Association is taking note of the civil (and non-civil, for that matter) courts funding crisis in California. The nation’s premier legal professional organization led an online report with “… California has cut so much money from the courts budget that some people may be discouraged from using the system, according to the state’s chief justice.” The ABA report, based on an interview with the Los Angeles Times, notes that 50 courthouses have been closed and 3,900 full-time positions eliminated in recent years – the interview was timed for release just before California Governor Jerry Brown released his latest budget draft today (Tuesday, May 13.)
The LA Times reports “Budget cuts have forced citizens in California’s largest county to drive farther and to spend more hours at the courthouse, while overworked staff try to keep up.” Source: Don Bartletti, Los Angeles Times
Our sister website, the California Courts Monitor, reports that early media reports do not even mention courts funding and that courthouse works and others are huddling to determine “next steps.” While the new budget does increase state courts funding, it remains hundreds of millions of dollars short of what court leaders say is necessary to overcome years of cutbacks.
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
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.
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.
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.