Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: California Politics

Lawyers, labor, leaders rally for court funding

A campaign by attorneys and labor and business leaders to restore funding to state courts is beginning to get some attention, and it's about time. As The Times notes in an editorial Tuesday, courts stand apart because of their essential role in a society of law. Every part of California government has to take -- and has taken -- serious budget cuts, but the justice system must be first in line for restoration.

Instead, under Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal, courts are first in line for further "trigger" cuts if voters reject taxes and if other hoped-for revenue fails to materialize.

A committee known as the Open Courts Coalition, headed by Los Angeles attorney Paul R. Kiesel and Burlingame lawyer Niall McCarthy, is calling on the Legislature to keep the courthouse doors open in 58 Superior Courts around the state by keeping court funding intact and gradually restoring $350 million that has been cut in recent years. The group closed off a block of Grand Avenue between Disney Hall and the Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Jan. 18 for a rally to support the courts; speakers included former Gov. Gray Davis and former state Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno.

In a video prepared by the group and delivered to Sacramento lawmakers on Jan. 13, members of the legal, business and labor communities do their best to get the Legislature's attention. (See the video at the top of this post.)

"Courts strangely are much like fire and police," says Milo Brown, court employees business representative for AFSCME Council 36. "You never think about them, you're never concerned about them, until you need them."

"The work you do in the Legislature, what you bring to the governor to sign into law, is meaningless if there is no forum to enforce it," says California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.

Participation and cooperation of the Los Angeles Superior Court as well as statewide court leaders and representatives of court employees is significant, because they are sharply at odds on actual court expenditure and management issues. Here are some examples of participation by court supporters with a stake in keeping the courts functioning.

Cantil-Sakauye visited The Times' editorial board this month to discuss court funding and unhappiness expressed by many judges with centralized leadership -- the Judicial Council, which Cantil-Sakauye heads -- and with a costly case management computer system. Listen to her remarks here, here and here.

Stand Up for Justice


Gov. Brown's vision

Spare California's courts from cuts

Chief justice: 'We've become slower, thinner, smaller'

--Robert Greene

Photo: Court workers, attorneys, judges and business and labor leaders gather for a rally to restore court funding on Jan. 18 in downtown Los Angeles. Credit: Lance Rubin / Open Courts Coalition.

For jobs, look to Sacramento [Ted Rall cartoon]

Political expert Allan Hoffenblum believes several seats will soon open in the Assembly and state Senate and California's U.S. House delegation, reports PolitiCal's Jean Merl. Hoffenblum is predicting "one of the largest turnover of seats in California history."

What this says to cartoonist Ted Rall: Jobs, jobs, jobs. And not just jobs, but jobs with a great salary and a per diem as a perk. Of course, it would mean spending time in Sacramento and having to pay for your own lunch, but: jobs!


California's 'budgetmageddon'

Ted Rall's 10 most popular cartoons of 2011

Housing Authority's $1.2-million golden parachute

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Cartoon: Ted Rall / For The Times

First open seat for D.A. since 1964 [Coffeebreak Quiz answer]


It has been 48 years since the last open-seat election for district attorney. That's when Evelle J. Younger defeated Manley Bowler to succeed William B. McKesson in the 1964 race

At least eight candidates are competing in the June 5 primary to become Los Angeles County's next district attorney. There is no incumbent. When is the last time that happened?


That's today's Coffeebreak Quiz answer: It has been 48 years since the last open-seat election for district attorney. That's when Evelle J. Younger defeated Manley Bowler to succeed William B. McKesson in the 1964 race.

Every district attorney since then has gotten the job by either defeating the incumbent or being appointed by the county Board of Supervisors.

The current D.A., Steve Cooley, beat his boss, Gil Garcetti, in 2000 after Garcetti was battered in the media over the failure of the O.J. Simpson murder prosecution and public squabbling over the Rampart police scandal.

Garcetti took the job in 1992 from his boss, Ira Reiner, after Reiner dropped out in the final months of the campaign. Reiner also had trouble with high-profile cases, including the McMartin Preschool child-molestation case and the prosecution of four police officers in the beating of Rodney King. Reiner had the job beginning in 1984, when he defeated Robert Philibosian, who in turn had been appointed by the Board of Supervisors in 1981 to fill a vacancy.

The vacancy was created when Dist. Atty. John Van de Kamp was elected state attorney general. Van de Kamp became district attorney in 1975 on appointment by the Board of Supervisors to fill a vacancy created by the death of Joseph Busch. The supervisors appointed Busch to the office in 1971 to fill the vacancy left when Younger was elected attorney general. And of course, Younger had the job since 1964, after he won the election to succeed McKesson.

I once worked for Younger, many years after he left office, at a Los Angeles law firm that specialized in bankruptcy. Good training for reporting on Los Angeles city and county and California state government. And, come to think of it, for working at the Los Angeles Times.

Another man I worked for, Metropolitan News-Enterprise Editor and Co-Publisher Roger M. Grace, noted in a column that Younger was related to outlaw Cole Younger and others in the Jesse James gang. Grace has written extensively about the county's not-always-upstanding district attorneys, going back to the beginning.

The actual nomination period for this year's district attorney race begins Feb. 13, but eight candidates have declared that they are running and/or have been raising money for the race. They are Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Grace; Deputy Dist. Atty. Steve Ipsen; Assistant Head Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Jackson; Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey; Deputy Dist. Atty. Danette Meyers; Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcus Musante; Deputy Dist. Atty. Mario Trujillo; and Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich.

Check back with Opinion L.A. and the Los Angeles Times editorial page between now and election day for discussions of the candidates, the issues and our endorsement.


Name that questionable street banner

A banner month for the Golden Globes

Mayoral deputies Szabo, Frank shell out for candidates

-- Robert Greene

Photo: Evelle J. Younger, then a Los Angeles Municipal Court judge, looks on as his wife, Mildred Younger, emerges from a voting booth in 1954. Mildred Younger was running for state Senate, and would have become California's first female member of the Legislature had she won. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Prop. 13: Sacrosanct because voters want it that way [Blowback]

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., responds to Jim Newton's Jan. 9 column, "Why should Prop. 13 be sacrosanct?" If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy

Jim Newton gives high marks to a lawsuit filed by former UCLA Chancellor Charles Young challenging Proposition 13 on the theory that the initiative placing it on the ballot in 1978 was a constitutional revision, not simply an amendment. A revision requires approval of the Legislature before going to voters; an amendment such as Proposition 13 doesn't. 

Newton gives the lawsuit too much credit -- and Proposition 13 too little.

Before Proposition 13, virtually all local governmental entities, including counties, city councils and school districts, could tax property in any amount with a simple majority vote of the body. Low-income families and fixed-income seniors were being taxed out of their homes -- literally. It was impossible for anyone to prepare a family budget because no one knew what next year's taxes might be.

Proposition 13 made several changes. First, it capped the property tax rate at 1% of the property's assessed value. Next, it limited the escalation of assessed value to 2% per year.  So if a person buys a house for $200,000 in 2011, he can prepare a family budget for 2012 knowing that his property's assessed value will rise to no more than $202,000 and his property tax will be 1% of that, or $2,020.

If all Proposition 13 did was cap property taxes, however, it would have been a hollow victory for overtaxed Californians because government bodies would have easily increased other taxes in their place. That's why Proposition 13 also required greater consensus for the state and local governments to raise other taxes.

Young's lawsuit, filed 33 years after voters passed Proposition 13, attacks only the requirement that new state taxes receive two-thirds approval in the Legislature. He argues that this change was a revision of the Constitution, not an amendment. Voters can propose amendments by collecting signatures on an initiative. Revisions, however, must be proposed to the voters by the Legislature. In either case, it is the voters who approve or reject the proposal. The difference is in the procedural route the proposal takes to arrive on the ballot. Young wants the courts, based on a procedural technicality, to tear from the state Constitution a provision that has been in place for 33 years.

Newton laments that because Proposition 13 made it harder to increase taxes, governmental bodies responded by creating a "crazy quilt of fees that often make little sense but can be put in place by majority vote." He writes that "getting rid of all that would be no bad thing."

It is naive to think that making it easier for politicians to raise taxes will get rid of existing fees. Rather, if Young wins, it means Californians can look forward to a crazy quilt of new taxes on top of the many fees they already pay.

But Young has little chance of winning.

Because courts are extremely reluctant to undo the expressed will of voters on pre-election procedural grounds, Young's case has two strikes against it at the start. That the will of the electorate has not changed much in 33 years also works against him. When Newton points out that Proposition 13 requires a two-thirds vote to pass "any tax increase," he unwittingly cites Proposition 26, an initiative approved by voters in 2010 that extended the super-majority threshold to fees, levies and other burdens that Sacramento lawmakers use in place of income or sales tax increases. Proposition 26 proved that a new generation of voters still supports Proposition 13.

Most detrimental to Young's lawsuit, however, is the fact that his claim has already been heard and rejected by California's highest court.  Immediately following the passage of Proposition 13, it was challenged on multiple grounds in the 1978 case Amador Valley Joint Union High School District vs. State Board of Equalization. One of the claims was that the initiative proposed a revision, not an amendment, to the Constitution. The California Supreme Court called that claim the challengers' "primary argument."  The Supreme Court upheld Proposition 13 against that claim: "Article XIII A will result in various substantial changes in the operation of the former system of taxation.  Yet ... the article XIII A changes operate functionally within a relatively narrow range to accomplish a new system of taxation which may provide substantial relief to our citizens." 

Young may disagree with that decision, but the decision is on the books. Courts decide cases on the basis of precedent, and the precedent has already been set. That, thankfully, makes strike three.


Could Prop. 13 fall?

Why should Prop. 13 be sacrosanct?

Prop. 13 and the issue of Amador Valley

The reply: Jim Newton responds to reader comments on Prop. 13

-- Jon Coupal

Photo: Howard Jarvis signals victory as he casts his vote for Proposition 13 in Los Angeles on June 6, 1978. Credit: Ben Olender / Los Angeles Times

First wide-open race for D.A. since -- when? [Coffeebreak Quiz]

 At least six candidates are running for Los Angeles County district attorney in the June 5 primary to succedd retiring incumbent Steve Cooley

At least eight candidates, are running for Los Angeles County district attorney in the June 5 primary. Incumbent Steve Cooley is retiring and leaving an open seat, something that hasn't occurred in Los Angeles since -- well, since when?

That's today's Coffeebreak Quiz. When was the last time there was an open seat here for district attorney? In other words, no incumbent running to defend his (and they've all been men) job. Hint: It's been a really long time. Second hint: When we say "incumbent running to defend his job," we mean actively raising money, campaigning and having his name on the ballot -- but not necessarily keeping his campaign going up until election day.

The next D.A. will have a lot to deal with. He or she will need to not just make certain that felons are locked up, but may have to grapple as well with possible ballot measures dealing with the "three-strikes" law, the death penalty, medical marijuana, criminal-justice realignment and perhaps more. Look for a lot more from the Times editorial page on the race for district attorney.

And look in this space, at this time tomorrow, for the answer to the Coffeebreak Quiz.


Name that questionable street banner

A banner month for the Golden Globes

Mayoral deputies Szabo, Frank shell out for candidates

-- Robert Greene

Photo: Steve Cooley discusses his plans after winning his first race for Los Angeles County district attorney in 2000. Credit: Rick Meyer / Los Angeles Times

Juvenile offenders and lawmakers get another chance

Wally skalij California Youth Authority in Chino

We've said it before -- more than a dozen times. A child, even a bad one, should not be sent to prison for life without any chance at parole. It's a mark of societal fear and a lust for revenge. Some younger criminals may indeed be so incorrigible that they should never go free, but after he or she has been behind bars for a quarter of a century, a judge, and a parole board, should be able to consider release.

On Tuesday, the state Assembly is reconsidering SB 9, a bill to put California among the ranks of civilized societies by ending juvenile life without parole sentences. Finally, Assembly, put this matter to rest, pass the bill and send it to the governor.

Or, as we have said previously:

Jan. 16, 2008:

But of all the inequities of a dysfunctional penal system and harsh state laws, few can touch our predilection for discarding the lives of children who commit crimes before they're old enough to fully understand the consequences of their actions.

April 30, 2009:

Knowing they will live and die in prison, people who acted in the rashness of youth have no hope of returning to society, and therefore no reason to learn, or grow, or mature, or reform. But surely their example will dissuade other youth from crime? Nonsense. Kids who can't imagine next year can't imagine life in prison and can't be expected to make decisions based on something as obscure to them as parole.

Nov. 7, 2009:

Society can and should countenance a hopeless existence in prison for adult perpetrators. But not for juveniles. The U.S. is, for now, the only nation that has not banned life in prison without parole for juvenile offenders, and more than 2,000 are serving such terms behind bars.

Jan. 14, 2010:

The Times recognizes that some people who commit crimes before they have developed a resistance to peer pressure and an adult's brainpower, judgment and moral capacity may remain dangerous even after years of punishment and repentance. [State Sen. Leland] Yee's bill does not compel judges to grant parole when it's inappropriate. But it demonstrates California's faith that not every person whose life got off to a destructive start remains irredeemable. It offers a window of hope to imprisoned teenage offenders and gives them an incentive to learn, reform and aspire to a productive life.

May 18, 2010:

Thirty-seven states allow for such sentences, but [U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M.] Kennedy persuasively argued that a better indication of whether they are cruel or unusual — and thus a violation of the 8th Amendment — was the infrequency with which they are imposed. According to the court, only 129 prisoners are serving life without parole for non-homicide offenses committed as juveniles. (The number in California is two.) Kennedy also noted that "the United States is the only nation that imposes life without parole sentences on juvenile non-homicide offenders."

Aug. 19, 2010:

All this bill offers juveniles is the possibility of a future, a chance at a chance. An offender who has served 10 years could ask a judge to reexamine his case. Even if a judge does resentence the offender, he must serve 25 years total before he is eligible for a parole board hearing. And parole need not be granted.

Sept. 1, 2010:

By a 38-36 vote Monday night, the Assembly killed the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act authored by state Sen. Leland Yee (D- San Francisco), refusing to lead California out of the Dark Ages by banning sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles. No other country sentences children to prison in this manner, and it is appalling, but not unexpected, that the Assembly could not muster enough political will to enact a law that in every way is beneficial to the public.

Dec. 8, 2010:

Not all juvenile criminals should receive parole, but if they turn themselves around as Kruzan did, they should be given the opportunity to put their cases before a court or parole board. That's why the Legislature should pass a bill that was reintroduced this week by state Sen. Leland Yee (D- San Francisco) after being rejected in August. The modest legislation would allow courts to review the cases of juveniles who were sentenced to life without parole after 10 years, possibly reducing their sentences to 25 years to life.

Aug. 11, 2011:

Assembly Democrats who have voted against earlier versions of this bill for fear of being labeled soft on crime should look at the facts. SB 9 would not automatically open prison doors for violent criminals. It would not eliminate life-without-parole sentences for any offender, adult or juvenile. It would merely give inmates serving life terms for crimes they committed before they turned 18 a limited opportunity to seek a 25-years-to-life sentence — and for the first time, a slim chance of parole before they die.

Nov. 9, 2011:

In fact, we in supposedly enlightened California come close to first place for cruel treatment of youth offenders. Year after year, California Democrats who live in fear of the county prosecutors' and victims' families' lobbies have voted down attempts to eliminate sentences of life in prison without parole for juveniles.

--Robert Greene

Photo: Juvenile offenders being moved at the California Youth Authority prison in Chino. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.

Mayoral deputies Szabo, Frank shell out for candidates [Coffeebreak Quiz answer]


Friday's Coffeebreak Quiz no doubt got you excited about Tuesday's Council District 15 runoff. The question: Which top deputy to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa donated to candidate and LAPD officer Joe Buscaino, and which contributed to candidate and state Assemblyman Warren Furutani?

The answer: Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Szabo gave to Buscaino, as reported to the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. Deputy Mayor Larry Frank gave to Furutani, according to the same records.

Szabo was a spokesman for mayoral candidate Robert Hertzberg during the 2005 campaign that saw Villaraigosa elected. He later was a spokesman for then-Councilwoman Wendy Greuel (now city controller and a candidate for mayor) before joining Villaraigosa's officer as a deputy mayor for communications in 2006. He is now one of Villaraigosa's top aides, dealing with budget and communications matters.

Frank, an attorney, labor activist and community organizer, has been with the Villaraigosa administration from the beginning. His portfolio includes neighborhood councils.

Photos: Joe Buscaino, left, and Warren Furutani. Credit: Robert Greene / Los Angeles Times


Name that questionable street banner

A banner month for the Golden Globes

--Robert Greene

Which Villaraigosa deputy gave what to whom? [Coffeebreak quiz]

Joe Buscaino, Warren FurutaniWe're just days away from the Jan. 17 City Council runoff in District 15. We've written in this space before about who's funding the candidates: Lots of San Pedro residents and businesses are giving to LAPD officer Joe Buscaino; lots of elected officials' campaign committees and Asian American donors across the nation are giving to state Assemblyman Warren Furutani. Independent expenditures loom large as well.

But what about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office? Villaraigosa has endorsed Furutani, but the race has split donations from his top deputies.

So Friday's Coffeebreak Quiz question: Which top Villaraigosa deputy has opened his wallet to Buscaino, and which to Furutani?

Campaign contribution records are public and available for review on the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission website.

The correct answer will be posted here on Monday, Jan. 16, at 11:07 a.m. 


Buscaino and the council cop bloc

Who's donating to Buscaino, Furutani?

How uncoordinated are the candidates?

When Warren Furutani met Joe Buscaino

The CD15 candidates on the Housing Authority

--Robert Greene

Photos: Joe Buscaino, left, and Warren Furutani. Credit: Robert Greene / Los Angeles Times

Chief justice: 'We were forced to think differently'

CJTCS Kirk McKoyOne of the biggest challenges for California's judicial branch has been the statewide deployment of a computerized case management system that will, it is hoped, make it quicker and easier for the public to file and find documents and quicker and easier for courts to share files and data among themselves and with law enforcement, child welfare and other agencies.

But the California Case Management System is a sore point. Its cost and slow development have angered many trial and appellate judges, who cite it as a reason for local courts needing greater budget and policy autonomy from the state Judicial Council.

A February 2011 report by the Bureau of State Audits sharply criticized the management of the CCMS project. Deployment of the project is on hold due to budget cuts and concerns expressed in the audit.

Last fall, the Judicial Council considered an offer from a charitable foundation to make a grant that would pay to deploy CCMS in San Luis Obispo, Fresno and Ventura counties. After examining and discussing the offer from Patrick Soon-Shiong, chairman of the Chan Soon-Shiong Foundation, the council shelved the plan.

The Times' editorial board asked Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, during a Jan. 6 visit, whether court resources were so strapped that she and the rest of the Judicial Council should entertain offers from charities to fund essential court functions. Click to hear her response, and read it below:

Listen: Charitable contributions to support courts

I hope on my watch the judicial branch does not go begging. But what you say -- how you characterized it is a fair characterization. There are a lot of different ways to characterize it, but it was a philanthropic effort. We were forced, and I really mean it, forced to think differently about how we could bring technology to the  branch.

Is it in our future? I hope not. Are we novel thinkers? Yes. Will we think of different ways if we can't get general fund funding? Yes. But that will be transparent and everyone will know and everyone will get a shot at us. That's what we're doing.

We asked Cantil-Sakauye about closing courtrooms that deal with lawsuits and other non-criminal matters due to budget cuts. Listen to her response:

Listen: Courts are closing non-criminal courtrooms

Courts have tried to prepare the best they can…. We've also heard other courts say … and other courts have reduced the courtrooms that hear civil cases because they have to use their reduced staff, and reduced hours, to hear the constitutionally obligated cases, which are criminal cases.

We asked the chief justice about whether courtroom closures could affect public safety. Listen to her response:

Listen: Impact of backlogs

You're talking about a potential backlog of people who have a proclivity or have driven under the influence and they get a court date somewhere out there and we're just going to take it on faith that they're not going to do it in those intervening months before they come back. There's definitely a public safety factor with the courts being backlogged.


Chief justice: "Worst possible option"

Chief justice: "Life without means life without"

Chief justice: "A hammer over my head"

--Robert Greene

Photo: California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye speaks with the editorial board on Jan. 6. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

Chief justice: 'We've become slower, thinner, smaller'

Tani Cantil-Sakauye Kirk McKoy Los Angeles Times

California's judicial branch weathered a cut of $350 million this year from its operations budget on top of a continuing annual $300 million cut imposed over the last several years. The state also diverted $310 million from a special fund for courthouse construction. When several trial courts threatened to shut their doors for lack of funding, the Judicial Council -- the authority that leads the three levels of California courts -- bailed them out with $300 million from its own administrative budget.

In his proposed 2012-13 budget unveiled last week, Gov. Jerry Brown is seeking no further immediate cuts to the courts. But if expected revenue fails to materialize, the courts will face automatic "trigger" cuts.

The day after the budget release, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye visited with the Times editorial board and discussed a range of topics, including funding. Click below to listen to audio excerpts, or read partial transcripts of the discussion.


Listen: 'Slower, thinner, smaller'

I’m grateful that our discussions with the governor’s office and the governor about the four-year cumulative hit to the branch resulted in the no-cuts, no-impact in the fiscal year budget for the branch unless there’s a trigger....

I feel it’s the first step in a journey that we still have to go because since 08-09 the judicial branch has sustained approximately $653 million in cuts.

As you know fiscal year 11-12 the one we’re in we took a $350 million cut but that was on top of a $300 million ongoing cut so it’s $650 million. And over four years we’ve become slower, thinner, smaller, and that’s not how justice is meant to be served anywhere, period....

We still need restoration. And what we’ve tried to do is be realistic….

But 11-12 is the threshold year where we’re running out of those options. You know it’s a fourth- year diet. And we’re done. We don’t have any more reserves, or very few reserves to move around….

We’re not a union shop [at the Judicial Council] so we don’t have contracts. Our employees are sticking with us in hopes for a better day. And we realize we cannot sustain in this fashion….


 Listen: Human impact stories

 We’re seeing in human impact stories that that’s where we’re being hit hardest, where courts have limited time, hours are limited, people aren’t getting in to get ex parte orders so they’re sleeping in their cars. Their kids get taken out of state because they weren’t able to get that order filed. Or because they couldn’t get their child support order modified. It was made at a time when he earned $60,000. Now he earns much less than that. He has to pay child support which is over half of his salary. He can’t get into court to get that modified. So in the meantime all he’s paying is child support and loses his apartment.

We’ve seen that we’ve tried efficiencies, but we’re a little bit beyond efficiencies and we’re now into reductions and trimming the edges in order to make ends meet. But we are still looking for those efficiencies. Some of those efficiencies will have to be statutory.

--Robert Greene


"Worst possible option"

"Life without means life without"

Profile: Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye

Photo: California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye speaks with the Los Angeles Times editorial board on  Jan. 6. At left is Ronald G. Overholt, interim administrative director of the courts. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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