The $500,000 slashed from the Commission on Judicial Performance’s budget by lawmakers has been restored in a spending deal approved by the governor and legislative leaders.
Terms of the 2018-19 budget include the full $5.2 million originally allocated by the governor’s May spending proposal for the agency that disciplines California judges.
Over the last two months, committees for both legislative houses had voted to cut roughly 10 percent of the commission’s budget in retaliation for its legal fight with the state auditor over access to judicial disciplinary records. That cut, however, did not materialize in the budget bill published Sunday. No one is saying why.
H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance, said he did not have details on the resolution. “While both [the] Senate and Assembly had the [$500,000] reduction in their respective versions of the budget, the final agreement reflected the [governor's] May revision—in other words, no cut,” he said.
Rumors that the commission would push legislation to shield investigatory and disciplinary documents from public scrutiny have swirled for more than a week. But no such language has appeared in any of the budget-related bills released by Monday afternoon.
Commission director and chief counsel Gregory Dresser declined to say whether the agency had proposed record-shielding language. “We did tell anyone who would listen to us that we’re actively working on a settlement with the auditor’s office,” Dresser said. “We’re trying to explore every option to assure the confidentiality of confidential commission records.”
State Auditor Elaine Howell has said repeatedly that state law bars her office from revealing any confidential commission documents.
“We have not reached any type of agreement with the Commission on Judicial Performance, and we are still pursuing litigation,” Dana Bralley, a spokeswoman for the state auditor’s office, said.
State lawmakers authorized the first-ever audit of the commission in 2016 amid complaints from judges and family law litigants about the agency’s practices. Commissioners sued to block the auditor’s access to records, which they say is barred by constitutional provisions meant to protect complainants and accused judges. In December 2017, a San Francisco Superior Court judge sided with the commission. The auditor appealed and the First District Court of Appeal ordered a settlement conference, which has not yet been scheduled.
In other budget news, the governor and legislative leaders agreed to give the judiciary $65 million in discretionary spending plus $10 million to pay for court reporters in family court. The state’s neediest trial courts also will be given an additional $47.8 million. Money was allocated, too, for 10 courthouse construction projects expected to break ground between October 2018 and January 2020.
Riverside County Superior Court, one of the fastest-growing trial courts in the state, will receive two new judgeships. Another justice will be added, as well, to the Fourth District Court of Appeal. Budget-writers also gave another $16.5 million to the state’s law libraries.