Monday, January 30, 2012

AB 1208 Approved by Assembly

Charles Calderon
AB 1208, Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon's bill to strip the Administrative Office of the Courts of its court funding authority and at least partially undo the centralization of the state's judiciary achieved over the past 15 years, was approved today by the state Assembly on an unofficial vote of  41-23.

As a bill introduced in the first year of the two-year legislative session (2011-12), AB 1208 had to be approved by its house of origin (the Assembly) by January 31, or else die by operation of the state constitution.  The bill had been sitting on the Assembly Floor since last May, and had been the focus of incredibly intense lobbying by, among others, the Alliance of California Judges and organized labor in support, and the Judicial Council, California Commission on Access to Justice, California Chamber of Commerce, and the presiding judges of virtually all California's smaller counties in opposition.

Mike Feuer
Debate on the bill was extensive, intense, nonpartisan, and generally polite.  Supporters of AB 1208, led by Calderon and Assembly Judiciary Committee Vice-Chair Don Wagner (R-Irvine), focused most of their arguments on the expansion of the Administrative Office of the Courts, allegedly to the detriment of the state's trial courts - with particular emphasis on the costs of the courthouse construction and CCMS centralized computer system "boondoggle."  Opponents of the bill, led by Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) and Sacramento Assemblymember Roger Dickinson, warned of the bill's potential to undo the benefits of 15 years of unifying the court system and the system of justice in California, and the inequalities and uncertainty that would result from returning court funding control back to the Legislature.

Most commenters - even the strongest proponents and opponents - noted candidly that the bill was "unfinished," "imperfect," and needed further work. The question for many appeared to be whether to pass the bill along to the Senate for further consideration, and stop it and revive the dialogue with other legislation.  After an extended period of the bill remaining "on call" awaiting sufficient votes, the 41-vote threshold was reached and AB 1208 lived to continue its journey in the Senate.

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