California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who has said that justice system budget cuts have created a new civil rights issue by limiting court access, is taking a softer tone in the wake of this year’s state budget, judging by published reports. For example, over the weekend the L.A. Times reported she “… said Friday the new state budget will mean “more disappointment, service reduction and delay for those who need our courts.”
But she also thanked the governor and lawmakers for their efforts. The Times noted that the budget “… contains less than half the money Cantil-Sakauye said would be needed for trial courts “just to tread water” after years of courthouse closures, layoffs and other cutbacks… court employees are still being furloughed, and services to the public have been slashed. Court users have reported waits of as many as eight hours at clerk windows, and closures have forced some residents to drive several hours to get to the nearest open courthouse.”
What happens in Vegas is likely to be heard elsewhere if a law firm is successful with a civil action to force action on health care coverage. The L.A. Review-Journal newspaper reports that local firm “… Callister Immerman & Associates on Thursday filed a type of action unusual in civil cases to compel the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange to establish a fund for a task force that would manually enroll critically ill consumers who paid premiums to Nevada Health Link but who had coverage delay…”
According to the report, “… the firm hopes its filing — called a writ of mandamus — will force immediate action, said partner Matthew Callister. Under mandamus, a court can order government officials to properly fulfill their official duties or correct abuses.”
The firm’s filing also requested an order from Clark County District Court shortening the time in which to hear the plaintiffs’ motion. The lawsuit is trying to address ongoing problems with the state’s health care system mandated by the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare.
The headline-grabbing civil lawsuit settlements against financial institutions highlight one solid trend: relatively little of the money goes to the actual victims, if we know how much at all. Take the story in the Atlanta Constitution-Journal about the $968 million SunTrust deal which reports “… it is unclear how much of the money will go to those who lost their homes. But in Georgia, 9,864 people will be eligible for checks to make up for some foreclosure abuses, said Nels Peterson, the state’s solicitor general.”
But, the paper adds, “… the bulk of the local money will be available for loan modifications or other aid for homeowners who are currently in default, are in imminent danger of defaulting or are underwater on their loans (meaning they owe more than their homes are worth).” Sooooo – not so much “cash” as “loan modifications.” Right.
There might be a better use of settlement money: how about allotting some cash for “civil Gideon” functions? How many of those 10,000 victims in Georgia alone would have dodged the wrongdoers if they had legal representation?
It’s an idea that’s bound to gain traction as CityBank eyes a $10 billion settlement.
The idea of providing the civil-court version of “if you cannot afford one, a lawyer will be appointed without charge” – aka “Gideon” – usually runs into funding questions. But what about all these hundreds of millions of settlement funds being collected by the government over shady mortgage practices? There is certainly a connection since much of the need involves housing and foreclosures.
The most recent was this week’s $968 million settlement with SunTrust, which the New York Times notes”… pales next to the multibillion-dollar pacts that the government has signed — or is seeking to sign — with the nation’s largest banks. But the SunTrust deal, announced on Tuesday, shows how state and federal authorities have been targeting banks beyond Wall Street.”
No kidding. The NYT also reports that “… the Justice Department is seeking a $10 billion penalty from Citigroup over its sale of defective mortgage investments, said people briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are incomplete.”
Another place civil justice is getting rationed: court interpreters. The New York Times has a major story that many states are running out of money, in “… places like Ohio, Kansas and Illinois, where immigrants speaking many different languages have settled in recent years, the courts struggle within financial constraints to meet their obligations under the Civil Rights Act of 1964
, which requires them to provide interpreters in all civil and criminal proceedings. In Ohio, for example, the most recent survey of local courts showed that spending on interpreters had increased to $1.1 million in 2010 from $55,000 in 1998, fueled by profound demographic changes.”
The NYT also reports that “Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said states had ‘a civil rights obligation’ to find the money to cover the growing costs of court interpreters. Pleading poverty, she said, “cannot insulate state courts systems from compliance.”