SF Court $2.5 Million Bailout & Smackdown

Golden Gate Bridge viewDon’t bite the hand that feeds you $2.5 million.  The San Francisco County Superior Court is in a world of financial trouble.  Court executive Michael Yuen went to the state Judicial Council Friday to ask for a bailout and while asking blamed the Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts for their financial woes.  That’s a little like Chrysler’s former CEO Lee Iacocca telling President Carter in the 1970s that it was Carter’s fault nobody was buying the gas guzzlers, but Chrysler still wanted the government bailout.

Lucky for Yuen the Council has broad shoulders.

Money was so short that San Francisco courts had planned to lay-off 177 of their roughly 400 employees and close 11 civil courtrooms, including two specifically set aside for complex litigation.  The Council was the court’s last chance to avoid severe cuts.

With one hand out Yuen used the other to smack the Council saying, “I have the very significant concern that the council and the AOC have brought us here today to make an example of our court so as to stifle future dissent from courts across the state.  However, any judicial entity that does not listen to opposing viewpoints is frankly not judicial at all.”

He also told the body that instead of working together for solutions to the state budget cuts, “the Judicial Council and the AOC seem to prefer thwarting creative and viable solutions at the state and county levels.  It appears that the council and the AOC value your unfettered autonomy and control over the actual delivery of broad access to justice for its state’s citizenry.”

 Despite the critique, the Council agreed to give San Francisco courts $2.5 million from the emergency fund and $645,000 from the state court’s Modernization Fund.  That will keep the two complex litigation departments open.  But the Council left some strings attached.  Yuen must get a better handle on collection of fees and fines as well as institute cost-saving measures.  The court must keep the 11 civil departments open and reduce lay-offs from 177 to 75.  And the kicker is the court has to repay the money over the next five years.

One member of the council did let Yuen know she wasn’t happy with his slap in the face.

Los Angeles Court of Appeal Justice Judith Ashmann-Gerst told him, “It was profoundly offensive to me to hear the attacks not only on the individuals but on the council as a whole.  Saying this whole thing is a charade, we’re trying to make an example of the San Francisco court, and still charging that nothing has changed with the council. Nothing could be more inaccurate.”

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