By John Howard
California’s courts impose hundreds of millions of dollars of “excessive and disproportionate” fines each year for common infractions, then use much of the money to support their own operations. A blue-ribbon panel examining the system said the fines should be collected by the executive branch — not the courts themselves — to avoid conflicts.
The 306-page report by the Commission on the Future of California’s Court System said the state should “restructure the funding and finances of the judicial branch,” and urged “eliminating all add-ons (i.e., surcharges, penalties and assessments).” The add-ons are fees and charges that are attached to a base fine and help finance myriad services, including court construction and administration. They can boost a base penalty by 10-fold, or more.
“Spiraling court fines, especially traffic fines, have captured attention in the Capitol in recent years for their disproportionate impact on the poor and for the role they play in financing the system”
The commission’s April 26 study — which was sent to state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye — recommended changes throughout California’s court system, including civil operations, traffic and criminal procedures, family law, court administration and technology, among others.
The recommendations on fees and fines were included in its review of fiscal issues and court administration. The commission is composed of judges, appellate court justices and court executive officers from across the state, among others.
Spiraling court fines, especially traffic fines, have captured attention in the Capitol in recent years for their disproportionate impact on the poor and for the role they play in financing the system.
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