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SACRAMENTO — Court leaders are still reeling from veto messages from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week that wiped out $57.5 million from trial court reserves and another $9.5 million the courts had expected to gain from new uniform civil filing fees. “I was absolutely stunned when that occurred,” said William Vickrey, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. “The budget that was passed by the Legislature was consistent with the budget the governor proposed for us; all the indications from the Department of Finance was that everything was in order. There were no calls to me, and as far as I know, to my staff, even raising questions about these things.” Vickrey and Kate Howard, who heads up the AOC’s Office of Governmental Affairs in Sacramento, said they have conferred both with legislative leaders and with Department of Finance Director Tom Campbell in the hope of ameliorating the cuts imposed by the governor’s budget veto message. “I’ve got a meeting set up with the Department of Finance and our budget staff to go over exactly what transpired,” said Sen. Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine, the Senate minority leader and a long-time advocate for the courts. Ackerman speculated that the Department of Finance may have recommended the cuts because this fiscal year ended with $67 million still in the trial courts’ reserve fund — a balance that is typically zeroed out. He added that the governor’s finance staff may also have figured that the courts were doing well enough with new funding that ties the trial court budget to the state appropriations limit — which takes into account the state’s annual population and inflation growth. In his veto message, the governor said, “The trial court trust fund does not need a large reserve, since its primary fund sources receive a statutory annual adjustment based on the increase in the state appropriations limit.” The trial courts picked up $130.7 million in new funding for the new fiscal year as a result of that new budgeting formula. “No one was trying to do in the courts,” Ackerman said. Vickrey and Howard said they are still trying to figure out what the cuts will mean to the trial courts. One problem may be that the courts are still obligated by statute to pay for programs — such as county law libraries and alternative dispute resolution programs — that would have been funded through the new uniform civil filing fees, but now are not. The cut in trial court reserves will seriously hurt the courts’ ability to pay variable expenses, including court-appointed counsel in juvenile dependency cases, Vickrey said. “The trial courts don’t get all their money from one source,” Vickrey added. “We have to have the money to provide for a cash-flow cushion to make the system work.” Vickrey and Howard would not rule out unallocated cuts to the state’s trial courts, but said they weren’t ready to develop such a plan — yet. “My position at the moment is we need to fix this,” Vickrey said. Ackerman acknowledged that this approach was optimistic — but not improbably so. “Never say never in this business,” he said.

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