Justice in Jeopardy Implementation
August 11, 2010
Members present: Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, co-chair: Judge Deborah Fleck, co-chair; Mr. Wayne Blair, vice chair; Mr. Jim Bamberger; Judge Stephen Brown; Mr. John Cary; Judge Sara Derr; Mr. Jeff Hall; Mr. Kirk Johns; Judge Eileen Kato; Ms. Joanne Moore; Mr. Salvador Mungia; Ms. Yvonne Pettus; Judge Christine Quinn-Brintnall
Staff: Ms. Mellani McAleenan; Mr. Ramsey Radwan; Ms. Lorrie Thompson; Ms. Karen Castillo
Guests: Ms. Nell McNamara, Ms. Sophia Byrd-McSherry
Call to Order: The meeting was called to order by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, who welcomed everyone and asked them to introduce themselves.
Tab 1: Approval of Minutes:
Judge Fleck asked for a motion to approve the September 9, 2009 Meeting Minutes, unless there are amendments requested. Mr. Bamberger moved that the minutes be approved; Mr. John Cary seconded the motion. The minutes were unanimously approved.
Tab 2: Fiscal Report
Mr. Ramsey Radwan provided several handouts and discussed the information therein.
Item 1 – 2009/11 and 2010 Supplemental Budget Reduction Summary
Mr. Radwan said that he anticipates that the current budget environment will continue for the next couple of years, and added that he does not share the optimism of the Revenue Forecast Council with regards to the future economic picture.
When questioned about the large cuts taken by the State Law Library, Mr. Radwan responded that the Legislature doesn’t understand the service that the Law Library provides. He said that he and the State Law Librarian, Kay Newman, have been trying to educate legislators on what the State Law Library does. He added that they are taking that approach to get some support from legislators to stop the brutal cuts to the Law Library. A question was raised regarding online information that the Law Library is now providing. Mr. Radwan replied that the cuts had nothing to do with online efficiencies. He added that, while the Law Library is trying to expand its electronic capabilities, it can be even more costly to do so; Westlaw and Lexis hold the market share. Chief Madsen noted that the budget cuts to the Law Library have resulted in staff furloughs and the loss of employees.
Chief Justice Madsen added that she had recently spoken with the Governor, who, at the time, was talking about preparing the Judicial Branch for across-the-board cuts of possibly five or six percent at the end of August. The Chief Justice added that, fortunately, Congress went back into session and authorized the funds for Medicaid, so that cut was not necessary. She noted that, in a more recent conversation, the Governor said that the current revenue projections suggest there will be another deficit and she may again look at a one-half to one percent cut in the current biennium budget. Revenues have not picked up as they had anticipated. Any agency or branch of government funded from the General Fund will be cut.
There was additional discussion regarding constitutionally protected dollars, which include salaries of all elected officials. It was pointed out that Education, pension costs, and debt service are currently excluded from across-the-board reductions, but elected officials’ salaries are not. There was a discussion of the history of across-the-board budget cuts made by executive order. Mr. Radwan noted that, in 1991, although then Governor Booth Gardner had developed an executive order to cut the budget across the board, in the end, he didn’t use it. He waited for the Legislature to make the cuts, which they did.
There was also further discussion about the initiatives that will be on the November ballot.
Item 2 – Economic and Revenue Forecast Council June 2010 State GF Balance Sheet as Adjusted by the AOC
Mr. Radwan noted again that previous revenue forecasts have been inaccurate and revenues have not come in that were anticipated. He discussed the current State Reserve, which is now only $162 million. $229 million of the reserve was spent by the Legislature this year. Factoring in the July revenue collections reduced the reserve by another $91 million. He referred to his calculations on the document, which show that for every one percent decrease in the 2011-2013 revenue forecast, the deficit increases by $324 million. If the September forecast is down by even one percent, the state will be in the hole, he said. Mr. Bamberger noted that he saw in today’s paper that the August revenue collections were $29 million less than what was expected, as well.
Item 3 – Revenue and General Fund Balance Update
Mr. Radwan noted that any increases in revenue are due solely to the tax increases and have nothing to do with increased economic activity. Revenue forecasts are not panning out the way they were predicted. Revenue Collections are coming down; any decrease will put the state in the red. Mr. Radwan said that, if the November ballot initiatives to remove the newly imposed sales taxes pass, $1.6 billion of projected revenues come right off the top.
The only good news is that the Medicaid money came through and included some money for education. There was discussion about education funding as well as potential money raised for education by the income tax initiative, if it passes. Additional discussion ensued about a possible court challenge to the income tax initiative, should it pass.
Tab 3 - Communications/Outreach Committee Update
Ms. Lorrie Thompson and Ms. Nell McNamara discussed the materials in the meeting packet that they had provided. Ms. McNamara noted that the Outreach work group has met by phone several times. She added that they will be breaking the effort into quarterly schedules. The first major project in the fall quarter will essentially be in preparation for the winter quarter. She said that the Equal Justice Coalition will hold open houses in the fall. The Outreach work group suggests holding it in local courthouses, and inviting all the JIJ partners and Legal Aid to put it together. One will be in Thurston County at the Courthouse.
Ms. Thompson added that the Outreach work group has been looking for ways for the local courts to connect with the public – i.e. rotary clubs, chambers of commerce, community leaders, local legislators, etc. At this point, they are looking at an educational approach similar to what National Adoption Day does to get media attention. They will create a tool kit for local courts to use and hold an event in Thurston County to bring the legislators in. Ms. Thompson noted that they chose a quarterly approach because everything changes so fast, and it is important to stay current.
Judge Fleck added that they haven’t fully decided whether to do that in January before the Legislature is in session, or to hold an event after session convenes. She is writing an article to place in the King County Court News about the volunteer help from local attorneys and community members, i.e. CASA program, etc. to demonstrate the leveraging that the Access Accountability group provides.
There was additional discussion about volunteer services and the effective efficient use of state dollars. (i.e. the NWJ Project, etc.) Judge Churchill suggested that, while it’s a great idea to highlight that volunteers are providing some of the needed services, it would be helpful to have a story alongside to include “what’s going missing?” What about those services that aren’t being provided? There was further discussion on this topic, and it was suggested that the judges be asked to provide stories of what they’ve seen in their courtroom with respect to justice not being served due to lack of access for the underprivileged. Judge Fleck suggested that they need to put together a tighter plan to gather what was termed the “Manifest Injustice” stories.
Tab 4: Legislative Update/Environmental Scan
Ms. Mellani McAleenan discussed the materials included in the materials packet related to the legislators who did not file for their current seats. Of the 16 House members not returning to their current seats, five will run for Senate seats; 11 are leaving to either retire or run for seats outside of the Legislature. Five senators are leaving to retire or run for a seat outside of the Legislature. She added that there is also a rumor that Senator Prentice will not be the Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee next year. On the House side, there is talk about consolidating committees, but it is assumed that Rep. Kelli Linville will stay on as the House Ways and Means Committee chair.
Ms. McAleenan discussed briefly the polling being done on the initiatives, saying that the conventional wisdom is that all the initiatives are going to pass. She noted that the Income Tax initiative is polling at 41-41. It is likely that, if it passes, it will face a court challenge. With regard to the beer and wine tax initiatives, Ms. McAleenan said that the State Auditor’s report lists how much money is lost if these initiatives pass. The information is available on that agency’s website.
Tab 5: Trial Court Operations
Judge Fleck walked the committee through the hand-out in the packet entitled, “Justice in Jeopardy – How Our Courts are Funded”. She discussed the history of the JIJIC, which began as the Court Funding Task Force.
She said that the highest priority of the Superior Court Judges Association as part of their legislative agenda still remains adequate and stable funding. She noted that the additional materials she provided in the packet focus on the areas that they want to continue to bring forward.
State Funding for Court Interpreter Services Chart – Judge Fleck said that this chart shows best practices based on federal/national standards and data-driven initiatives. It is intended to be shorthand to point out what steps are needed because of the increasing diversity in the courts. Judge Fleck noted that the relatively small amount of interpreter funding ($2 million) was reduced by 37 percent.
She said that it’s important to recognize where we are at the beginning of this process and that, working together, we have been able to fend off cuts to OPD and OCLA. The Court Operations part of JIJ has taken a full cut, but she doubts that the Supreme Court will authorize any funding requests. It’s important to redouble our effort to show what’s now left of our agency and what part of that is going to trial courts, she added. She stated that we can’t get by if we cut into our trial courts or our agency. She said that her purpose in having this on the agenda today is to emphasize the importance of the JIJIC, the OPD and the OCLA continuing to work together. Telling legislators where we stand and how much even a partial restoration would mean should remain on the table. There is no way any of us know what it will look like after November, she said, adding that it will be important to amplify what our needs are and how much the cuts hurt. To forestall the bleeding will continue to be the mission for the JIJIC, she noted.
Ms. Moore suggested looking again at the fact that interpreters are constitutionally required, saying this should be part of the story being told. Judge Fleck replied that stories about dependent children and people needing interpreters may sway legislators more than juvenile justice issues. Judicial officers can chronicle these things; they see them in their court room.
Chief Justice Madsen commented that the top priority is keeping our courthouse doors open. Where in the line these various interests fall will have to be determined, she added. She emphasized that there is an anticipated $3.5 billion deficit for next biennium.
Mr. Cary remarked that, in keeping the courthouse doors open – getting to the legislators is the first thing, but the pitch needs to be given to the citizens as well. He added that we need to find those stories and then move from there to the basic idea of keeping the doors open, because forty percent of the cases are about children, families and domestic violence.
Judge Quinn-Brintnall observed that, when times are tough, the judicial workload goes up. For those needing interpreter services, the courthouse doors are not open if there are not interpreters. Mr. Bamberger agreed that, if the services are not provided, the courthouse is effectively not open to some people because the ability to do justice for them is not present.
Office of Public Defense Report
Ms. Moore distributed a hand-out and reported that OPD is feeling very much in flux like everyone else. They took a 2.2% cut over the last two years. She said they didn’t ask for maintenance money. In their office, the services are constitutionally mandated, so they didn’t have any cuts to programs. There was an 18 percent cut in administrative costs. During the upcoming legislative session they will emphasize that they’ve worked very hard over the last few years to maintain funding for constitutionally mandate programs, but they are focusing on case outcomes.
Tab 6: Office of Civil Legal Aid Report
Mr. Bamberger discussed the materials that he had provided in the meeting packet. He said that the OCLA authorizes NJP to subcontract some funds to underwrite the King County Crisis Clinic, which serves as an efficient one-stop entry point for clients living in King County.
He said that, looking at six-month snapshots, the demand for services continues to increase. It doesn’t manifest in bigger numbers in CLEAR because, before the recession, CLEAR was already overwhelmed. He said that, if you called right now, you would get a busy signal, even though there are 31 people dedicated to staffing the intake call-center that operates in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties.
He said that the Northwest Justice Project’ presence in the State is veneer thin. He said OCLA is working through the Supreme Court budget process to propose the policy level request that buys back a portion of the capacity lost to budget cuts and that this capacity would be dedicated where there’s a disproportionate lack of access and high demand on the statewide intake hotline. He said that the bottom line is that state cuts were $722 thousand. The crash of interest rates and the corresponding collapse of the housing market resulted in the loss of millions of IOLTA dollars to fund the court access system. He concluded by saying that the budget problems facing the state can be compounded when people don’t have access to justice to timely assert critical legal claims.
Mr. Bamberger offered congratulations to Washington State Bar Association President, Mr. Sal Mungia and the Association and for its recent award.
Chief Justice Madsen and Judge Fleck briefly discussed that the U.S. Attorney General is taking on the Access to Justice Issue, so it will be useful to build on Mr. Holder’s and Mr. Tribe’s messages.
Tab 7: Other Business/Future Meeting Dates
Chief Justice Madsen and Judge Fleck reviewed with the committee the dates on the proposed schedule of meetings for next year. It was noted that the Chief Justice will not be available for the June 17, 2011 meeting.
Ms. Moore suggested that the September 17, 2010 meeting be set as the deadline for everyone to submit their “Manifest Injustice” stories.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.
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