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The Administrative Office of the Courts is considering a hiring freeze for itself and the appellate courts, curtailed travel budgets and cutbacks in implementing new technologies, in anticipation of more financial doom and gloom out of Sacramento. The AOC has yet to make any final decisions, but those were among ideas proposed late last week after managers met to discuss what could be trimmed out of the courts’ $2.5 billion budget. Although the judicial branch accounts for only about 2.5 percent of the state budget, the courts, like other state agencies, expect to be asked to cut costs to help deal with California’s multi-billion budget shortfall. “We’re in the process of inventorying everything that isn’t literally nailed down to prepare for an uncertain future for our judicial system that will be with us for the next few years,” said William Vickrey, administrative director of the courts. Vickrey, however, said none of the ideas being considered includes more hits to trial courts. They already had $148 million trimmed from their $2.2 billion portion of the overall budget earlier this year. At that time, the rest of the judiciary — including the appellate courts and the AOC — took $6.7 million in cuts from the remaining $300 million portion of the courts’ budget. But the budget-cutting proposals could alter operations within higher courts and the AOC. Although Vickrey could not yet estimate how much money would be saved by the proposed budget constraints, he said people could see a slowdown in the issuing of appellate opinions and in the Judicial Council’s rule-making process. AOC’s reconsideration of its budget for 2002-03 and beyond coincided with Gov. Gray Davis’ decision to convene a special session of the Legislature on Dec. 9 to discuss $5 billion in cuts and other steps to help California crawl out of the red. Vickrey plans to meet with Chief Justice Ronald George in the next few days to discuss the proposed cuts. Also due this week are reports from Vickrey’s colleagues that will project how much money the AOC would save with the cuts. Whatever happens, it doesn’t bode well for the judicial branch. The hallmark of George’s term has been continuing integration of the courts under one statewide umbrella. Though it is believed that an integrated court system will save the state money in the long run, cutting staff and curtailing new computer systems certainly won’t speed up that transition, nor contribute to the AOC’s overall goal of improving access to the courts. Vickrey said his staff was looking at more creative cuts because the courts have a lot of costs that simply cannot be tinkered with, such as juror pay and court security. Among the AOC’s belt-tightening options: � Automatically reviewing a position that becomes vacant to see if the job should be filled at all. � Encouraging more telephone conferences in order to save on travel fees. � Reducing the number of reports generated by the AOC and looking at how records are retained. “We’re trying to look at the structure and procedure for how we do business in our entire judicial branch,” Vickrey said, “to see if there are things structurally that we could change to reduce the base cost of the courts system.”

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