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SACRAMENTO � Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger threw a flurry of fiscal jabs to California’s courts and public lawyers Friday, vetoing more than $25 million in state budget spending for conservatorship reforms, environmental litigation and raises for court-appointed counsel. The judicial spending cuts were among dozens made to agencies statewide that total $703 million. The governor made the reductions as part of a deal to secure needed Republican votes for the $103 billion budget last week. The biggest hit to the court’s budget was the elimination of $17.4 million for improving California’s beleaguered guardianship and conservatorship system. The money would have paid for more investigators and examiners, training and more client visits to the elderly and infirm whose estates fall under court protection. Court leaders were counting on the money � which was included in the governor’s original January budget proposal � to finally implement a package of four reform bills enacted last year after a Los Angeles Times series highlighted abuses. “We are devastated,” said Kate Howard, director of the Judicial Council’s Office of Governmental Affairs. “The courts have been gearing up for months to implement these important reforms that affect some of the most vulnerable Californians.” Howard said Schwarzenegger’s veto came as a shock because the governor and lawmakers expressed “nary a peep” of opposition to the spending throughout months of budget deliberations. Nor did the conservatorship funding appear on a list of $800 million in spending cuts demanded by Senate Republicans earlier this month. Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, author of one of the reform bills, said advocates will probably have to wait until the 2008-09 budget to secure funding.
‘We are devastated. The courts have been gearing up for months to implement these important reforms that affect some of the most vulnerable Californians.’

Kate Howard Judicial Council

“We’re very, very disappointed,” Jones said. “We did receive a call [from the governor's office] and some indication that they consider this a delay. But this is a real problem that exists here and now and we have no guarantee that this money will be available next year.” In a brief signing ceremony in the Capitol on Friday, the governor offered no explanation for his cuts but did praise Republicans and Democrats for finally ending a 52-day budget logjam. The governor also stunned prosecutors in the attorney general’s office by slashing $2.2 million from the environmental law section’s budget. The money funds enforcement actions against hazardous waste and toxic substance polluters. As an example, Kenneth Alex, supervising deputy attorney general in the environmental section, cited a legal fight that led to a $93 million settlement with 16 insurers in 2005 for cleanup of the Stringfellow Hazardous Waste Site in Riverside County. In his veto message, Schwarzenegger said the money should be redirected to the state Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Toxic Substances Control. “This is so surprising,” Alex said. “We’ve done hazardous waste enforcement for the last 22 years.” Alex said that while the state EPA and the toxics control agency have historically played a role in pollution enforcement “when the cases don’t get resolved at the administrative level, they’re handled by the attorney general’s office � This looks like it’s a deep cut in the toxics enforcement action.” Schwarzenegger also cut an extra $1 million that Democrats had allocated for climate litigation in the attorney general’s office, an appropriation that Republicans fought vehemently and one that Department of Justice officials had expected would be eliminated. The governor also deleted a request by the Legislature to give about 600 court-appointed appellate attorneys a $5-an-hour pay hike. Appointed lawyers in noncapital cases now earn between $80 and $100 an hour depending on experience and the complexity of the legal matter. Counsel appointed in capital appeals earn $140 an hour. The governor’s action, however, would not stop the Administrative Office of the Courts from paying for the $5-an-hour raise out of existing funds. Also eliminated Friday was startup funding for a loan repayment program that would have helped up to 100 law school graduates who go to work in the public sector or for a legal aid nonprofit. Schwarzenegger did leave in the budget $2.5 million to expand self-help services for poor litigants, a provision that Republicans wanted axed. The budget also includes $28 million for 50 new trial court judgeships � which still must be approved by the Legislature � although the governor said he would delay their appointments until late summer 2008.

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