On May 14, 2014 the Bernard E. Witkin Alameda County Law Library held the 17th annual Witkin Lecture featuring Presiding Judge Winifred Smith and Court Executive Officer Leah Wilson. Their presentation, covering the operations of the Alameda County Superior Court, discussed the challenges facing the court that are largely caused by the budget crisis: since 2008 the California judicial branch has lost $1billion in General Funds income from the state. Judge Smith and Ms. Wilson took questions throughout their presentations
The branch also receives funding from case filing fees, but the number of filings statewide has dropped from 10 million to 7.5 million filings annually. Statewide filing fees account for 9% of trial court funding and in Alameda they are 3%. Along with fewer cases filed the number fee waivers granted has increased. The budget crisis required the Alameda Superior Court to cut expenses: reducing staff by 22%, reduced clerk office and phone hours, and elimination of universal filing.
To offset some of those revenue losses the Superior is focusing on local revenue possibilities such as accurate collection of filing fees, imposing new fees authorized by law, and charging for online access. The charge for online access includes increased functionality – the ability to search by party name instead of only docket number.
Recent legislation further impacts the judicial branch: the reserve funds built up by the courts must be spent down by June 30, 2014 – leaving nothing to offset declining fee revenue and lower allocations from the general fund. A new Workload Allocation Funding Methodology (WAFM) allocates funding based on an analysis of staffing needs and costs. This means that some courts will get more money and some will get less than before. Alameda gets less funding than before.
In 2013 the Alameda Superior Court was reorganized to a case type instead of a location –based organization – and brought in a new executive leadership team.
Taking questions throughout their presentation Judge Smith and Ms. Wilson increased attendees’ knowledge of the fiscal, statutory and public policy challenges facing the Alameda County Superior Court.
A video recording of the program is available on the Alameda County Law Library’s YouTube Channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpT0FBsqSaL5ORDRhSc3Teg In 4 parts
The PowerPoint deck is available as a movie at: http://youtu.be/I4uj9bIOTdc
While the Alameda County Superior Court receives only 3% of it’s income from a portion of filing fees, filing fees comprise over 90% the Alameda County Law Library’s income. The drop in the number of case filings slashed law library income by 25% since 2007; that means less money to spend on updating books and less money to spend on new books and databases. You can help by making a tax-deductible gift to the Alameda County Law Library online, by calling 510-272-6483 or mailing to Alameda County Law Library, 125 12th St., Oakland, CA 94567.