California Bar Journal
CBJ - July 2008 #02.
Economic woes hit attorneys and courts
California Bar JournalJune 2008Economic woes hit attorneys and courtsBy Nancy McCarthyStaff WriterIf you think gas prices are high, wait until you have to pay a parking ticket or go to traffic school. Under a bill pending in the state Assembly, penalties for those infractions will more than double, and filing fees in civil cases and penalties in criminal convictions also will rise.
The money generated by the increases - an estimated $5 billion - will fund renovation or replacement of as many as 40 deteriorating courthouses.
"Everyone is guaranteed a day in court, but in California that right is jeopardized by inadequate facilities that threaten the safety of everyone in the building," said Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, author of SB 1407. "It is time to invest in this critical area of the state's infrastructure in a way that does not hurt the state's general fund."
Faced with a $15 billion budget deficit, lawmakers are struggling with ways to boost revenue without increasing taxes. Perata's plan authorizes the issuance of revenue bonds, to be funded by the increased fines and fees, that will finance the construction projects. Such bonds do not require voter approval.
The added fees are:
A $40 penalty imposed on all criminal convictions A $35, $30 and $25 increase in filing fees in civil cases, depending on the value of the case A $2 increase, from $1.50 to $3.50, on parking tickets A $40 increase, from $24 to $64, in the traffic violator school fee.
Chief Justice Ronald George told legislators in March that conditions are so bad in some courthouses that innocent bystanders, as well as court employees and law enforcement personnel, are sometimes at risk because of security problems. Some buildings are so crowded that judges conduct hearings in parking lots and have insufficient juror assembly space, others are seismically unsafe, and still others have little or no access for the disabled.
"The physical condition of California's courthouses has reached a state of crisis," George said. "Some court buildings are in such desperate shape that they no longer provide a safe and secure environment for conducting everyday court business."
The Judicial Council has estimated that 90 percent of the state's courthouses need improvements and has...