Workers Citing Mismanagement Urge State to Properly Fund Court System

San Francisco Superior Court workers this afternoon called on the state to bolster court services and establish adequate funding levels, which have fallen short following alleged mismanagement by the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).

David Canham, an SEIU Local 1021 field director in San Francisco, said that people are upset over the court’s priorities and mismanagement of funds intended for trial courts.

Canham pointed to the Judicial Council of California’s audit report released early this year which found that “because of questionable fiscal and operational decisions, the Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts have not maximized the funds available for the courts.”

The Judicial Council is responsible for adopting rules for court administration, practice, and procedure for the judicial branch, while the AOC is responsible for providing administrative support to the Judicial Council and direct services to the courts.

The audit found that while courtrooms have had to close or reduce their hours and dismiss thousands of court employees, the AOC continued to offer its employees “excessive salaries and generous benefits and made other costly decisions.”

The audit revealed millions of dollars needlessly spent on inflated salaries, perks and other questionable expenses.

Meanwhile, courtrooms remain shuttered, hours open to the public remain cut, and exorbitant fees and fines are being imposed on those who can least afford to pay them, according to a statement released by SEIU Local 1021 today.

Canham said court workers are in the middle of contract negotiations and that they came out today to march to the AOC and deliver an oversized petition calling on the AOC to stop wasteful spending. They also demanded that the AOC implement the state auditor’s recommendations, abandon the Workload Allocation Funding Methodology and stand with workers to demand the legislature increase funding for all state courts.

Canham said they are taking money from San Francisco to give to courts in other counties, even though San Francisco is already squeezed.

“The funding formula is broken,” Canham said.

He said the governor needs to give more money to the court, but the AOC needs to properly use the funds.

Court workers maintain that cuts made to the state’s court system during the economic downturn around 2008 have not been restored and that the Workload Allocation Funding Methodology, a funding system approved by the Judicial Council in 2013 and implemented by the AOC, has only made the problem worse for San Francisco.

The methodology redistributes limited funding of the state’s 58 Superior Courts based on their workloads.

Gary Feliciano, who has worked for the court for eight years, and Adrienne Williams, who has worked for the court for 20 years, said the public should be concerned because it is them who are being treated unfairly.

Feliciano and Williams said they were rallying today, not for themselves or their paychecks, but for everyday San Franciscans, especially poor defendants who sit behind bars awaiting trial far longer than they should have to, for tenants fighting landlords but unable to get their cases heard and for those who see small traffic violations balloon into exorbitant amounts they cannot afford because the court has such limited business hours that few can come to settle the fines.

“It’s not just here, it’s the entire state of California,” Williams said.

Williams said no matter why you find yourself in court, long waits and ridiculous fines should not define the experience.

She said she knows one mother who had traffic tickets and because she worked full time and couldn’t make it to the courthouse, those tickets turned into thousands of dollars of fines. That woman lost her license and as a result lost her job, Williams said.

She said these scenarios are a lot less likely to happen if the court could provide services to people past 4:30 p.m.

She said the audit confirmed that there was money available that could have been spent on preventing foreclosures or stopping people from being laid off, and expanding court services, but wasn’t.

She said the findings of the audit were amazing and very saddening.

“Ten of the highest paid people in the state of California worked for the AOC and made more than the governor,” Williams said.

Feliciano said that at some point, whether it’s a traffic fine, jury duty, custody case or lawsuit, most San Franciscans will need to come to court and the cuts to the court system are likely to stand between them and the services they need.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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