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Governor Won't Make Judicial Council Open MeetingsIn signing a budget bill that partially restores court funding, Brown struck transparency measures sought by lawmakers and opposed by the chief justice.
2013-06-27 05:36:28 PM
SACRAMENTO — Governor Jerry Brown on Thursday signed a state budget that includes an extra $63 million for courts but deletes Legislature-sought language that would have forced the judiciary to open its many policy- and rule-making meetings to the public.
"This spending provision would create cost pressures on trial courts," Brown said in a veto message, even though the open-meeting provisions were aimed squarely at the Judicial Council's more than two dozen subcommittees and task forces, not the trial courts.
"I urge the Judicial Council to continue efforts to provide greater public access to judicial branch committee activities," the governor wrote.
His message marked a victory for Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who, along with other branch leaders, had lobbied Brown for a veto. The open-meeting language would have forced the council to adopt a rule of court outlining meeting policies by Oct. 1.
"It's not something that can be hastily done," Cantil-Sakauye said Thursday. "It has to be thoughtful and deliberative because we are different. ... So this is something that, yes, needs to be done. But it has to be done with care."
Ironically, the governor and legislative leaders this month faced a public backlash for — and ultimately backtracked from — a budget proposal that would have weakened enforcement of the state's Public Records Act. Finance director Ana Matosantos said the budget language forcing the judicial branch to develop and enact open meeting laws would have cost too much, although she could not provide specific estimates.
"We are asking the Judicial Council to step up and become more accessible on their own," she said.
The outgoing chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee called the governor's veto "a mistake."
"The public has a right to know the decisions affecting access to justice and the administration of justice," said Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Van Nuys.
The Judicial Council relies on more than two dozen committees, task forces and working groups to hash out the details of a wide range of policies, including how the branch's $3 billion budget is spent. Most of those gatherings are closed to all but committee members, guests and staff. Agendas and minutes are rarely made public and when they are, they are often weeks or even months old.
The chief justice said council members are working on language addressing open meetings, and they could have something by early 2014. "That's aspirational," she added.
But Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Douglas Miller, who chairs the council's Executive and Planning Committee, warned that many committee issues are too sensitive to discuss in public.
"We have over 20 to 30 advisory committees and task forces, many which deal with very sensitive issues, some which are attorney-client issues, some which are litigation matters ... some which deal with the contracting manual, which needs to be done in a closed session," he said.
The budget signed by Brown on Thursday retains an already announced extra $60 million for the trial courts and another $3 million to be shared by the Supreme Court, the appellate courts and the Habeas Corpus Resource Center. Court leaders said they're grateful for the extra money but warned that it will have a minor impact.
San Mateo County Superior Court executive officer John Fitton said he'll be able to restore one courtroom slated for closure, drop plans for laying off seven staffers and one commissioner and possibly restore some public service hours. But the additional funding won't be enough to prevent the loss of three other court commissioners and seven court employees, he said.
"This is good news and a significant first step. However, it should be clear that this partial restoration does not begin to erase the damage done by the ongoing cuts to the state trial courts," Fitton said in a prepared statement.
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