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Gov. Gray Davis helped California courts do a little housekeeping Tuesday, signing a bill repealing hundreds of statutes that were rendered obsolete by unification and other major changes to court administration. But a trio of highly anticipated bills on management of court facilities, the employment status of court interpreters and civil filing fees still await action by the governor as he clears his desk in a flurry of pre-election decisions on legislation. The deadline for Davis to sign bills from the latest legislative session is Monday. He’s already been active on issues close to the plaintiffs bar, approving bills on summary judgments and construction defects. And last week, Davis signed AB 2879, which allows retired judges serving in trial courts to be paid the same as retired judges who serve on appellate courts or the Supreme Court. It also changed the judges’ retirement law, allowing those sitting on the bench to get benefits similar to those under the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. But the courts are waiting for a few of their top priorities to clear. SB 371, SB 1732 and AB 3000 are still on the governor’s desk. SB 371 would allow interpreters to be court employees, rather than independent contractors. The other two bills would, among other things, raise civil filing fees. SB 1732 also transfers the responsibility of court buildings from counties to the state. At least on the surface, the bill Davis signed Tuesday — SB 1316 — looks like one of the key measures for the courts. It’s a massive piece of legislation, carried by the Senate Judiciary Committee, that helps make official the sweeping reforms of the Lockyer-Isenberg Trial Court Funding Act of 1997; trial court unification, which was passed in 1998; and the Trial Court Employment Protection and Governance Act of 2001. The effects of the bill, however, are largely on paper. SB 1316, according to its backers, will have little impact on daily operations of the courts, which already are transitioning toward a unified system with one budget administered by the Judicial Council, rather than counties. It is also companion legislation to Proposition 48, an initiative on the November ballot that would remove all references to the municipal court system from the state Constitution. “It’s a technical, non-substantive project to get rid of deadwood,” said Nathaniel Sterling, director of the California Law Revision Commission, a non-partisan body that recommended which laws to change. The commission report used to write the bill is 570 pages. SB 1316 is the first, and probably the largest, in a series of bills expected over the next several years that will “clean up” government, penal and civil procedure codes to reflect the changes in court administration, Sterling said. Among other changes, the bill alters references in state codes to jobs performed by the “court clerk.” Over time, many of those jobs have come to be done by the county clerk or court executive officer, Sterling said. Another provision abolishes the commission’s deadline, Sterling said. Originally, the group had until Jan. 1, 2002, to pour through state codes. But unification and the budget changes are so complicated that the commission now has no deadline to finish sorting things out. The commission will keep plugging away until the housekeeping is finished, “assuming we still have funding to do it,” Sterling said in reference to California’s budget problems this year. “But if we don’t do it, then people [will just] squabble over it,” he said.

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