Christopher Rosacker

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February 20, 2013
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State budget could imperil more than the Nevada County courthouse

Nearly one dozen more courthouses statewide are poised for postponement as the statewide judicial branch grapples with Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal.

A decision to delay 11 more courthouse projects — on top of an indefinite delay of four courthouses, including Nevada County’s — is expected at a two-day meeting of California’s Judicial Council beginning on Feb. 25.

As the policy-making body for the state’s judicial branch, the Judicial Council takes courthouse construction project recommendations from the Court Facilities Working Group, which has struggled to prioritize projects amid continued funding raids by the legislature and the governor’s office.

“We understand the fiscal realities of our state,” said Justice Brad Hill, chair of the facilities group and administrative presiding justice of the Fifth Appellate District Court of Appeals. Hill’s comments were distributed in a Feb. 11 statement.

“We also believe that the public deserves safe, secure, accessible courthouses. Millions of Californians use our courthouses. They deserve courthouses that will not collapse in an earthquake,” Hill said. “They deserve courthouses that are safe, and security experts tell us that our citizens are at risk if we don’t do something about these deficiencies. Further delay will imperil our vital infrastructure and compromise the safety of those citizens who use our courts.”

By fiscal year 2013–2014, nearly $1.5 billion of court user fees originally designated by the legislature for court construction will have been borrowed, transferred to the state General Fund, or redirected to court operations, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts.

The Governor’s proposed budget for 2013–2014 would redirect another $200 million in court construction funds to trial court operations.

It would also postpone repayment of a $90 million loan from the court construction fund, according to the AOC.

At its Feb. 8 meeting, the facilities working group recommended the council request the legislature fund all active courthouse projects to allow them proceed in the upcoming fiscal year, rather than placing more projects on hold due to uncertainties in the budget. However, that recommendation is contingent on restoration of construction funds as a part of finalization of the Budget Act for fiscal year 2013–2014. Without funding restoration, 11 urgently needed projects will not be able to move forward as scheduled.

In the last 14 months, the Judicial Council has canceled two projects, delayed seven indefinitely and, at its January meeting, adopted a plan to delay indefinitely four more projects pending resolution of the Budget Act for the upcoming fiscal year.

The council will hold a public educational meeting from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, and its public business meeting from 8:30 a.m. to 3:35 p.m. Tuesday in the Judicial Council Conference Center, Hiram Johnson State Office Building, Third Floor, Ronald M. George State Office Complex, 455 Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco.

A live audiocast of both meetings will be on the California Courts website and the agenda and reports are posted online.

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call (530) 477-4236.

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The Union Updated Feb 21, 2013 08:24AM Published Feb 21, 2013 08:37AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.