By Mike Cruz Staff Writer
Posted: 07/14/2011 09:51:25 PM PDT

California’s courts, including those in San Bernardino County, could be faced with a 15 percent cut over the next two fiscal years to address a

$350 million budget reduction approved by the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown, court officials said.

State judicial leaders are considering a recommendation that calls for a 6.7percent cut to the fiscal 2011-12 budget, which covers operating expenses for the trial courts in the state’s 58 counties. The rest of the cuts would come the following fiscal year.

Those kinds of cuts, if approved, could translate to a reduction “in the low millions” for San Bernardino County courts, said Presiding Judge Douglas Elwell in a brief telephone interview Thursday.

Elwell said it was too early to tell exactly how court services or personnel could be impacted locally.
By the numbers

Superior Court of San Bernardino County

Judgeships: 78

Full-time employees: 1,121

Subordinate judicial officers: 13

Expenditures: $136.6 million

Population: 2.07 million

Source: Administrative Office of the Courts: Annual Report 2008-2010 and Fact Sheet, September 2010
The two-year budget solution was part of a package of proposed reductions reached by the Trial Court Budget Working Group, along with representatives of Appellate Court leadership, at a daylong meeting in San Francisco, according to a statement issued by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Also included in the recommendations were a 9.7percent funding cut for the California Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal as well as a 12percent reduction for the Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts.

All of the reductions would rise to an ongoing level of 15.2percent for all judicial branch entities in fiscal 2012-13, according to the statement.

The working group also recommended a one-year suspension in the deployment of the long-awaited California Court Case Management system.

All the recommendations will go before the state Judicial Council as it reviews funding allocations at a meeting on July 22. The council can choose to accept, modify or reject the recommendation, court officials say.

Elwell said it was still too early to say what the potential loss of funding would look like locally if the recommendation is approved.

“We’re not sure yet,” said Elwell, who is a member of the Working Group. “It looks as though right now we’re going to be taking a cut to our operating budget of somewhere in the low millions.”

Elwell said it was unclear whether the reduction could be absorbed locally through operating efficiencies, by consolidating court calendars or whether more severe options would be necessary.

In San Bernardino County, the courts have historically avoided forced layoffs, but there have been furloughs, the presiding judge said.

“But we’re not even at that point yet,” Elwell said. “We’re still working on that. We’re in negotiations with our employee units right now.”

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