Funding Alternatives Work Group
Members present: Wayne Blair, John Cary, David Donnan, Bob Dowdy, Joan Ferebee, Judge Gordon Godfrey, Betty Gould, Ron Hjorth, Judge Bruce Hilyer, Kirk Johns, Judge Craig Matheson, Ron Mattson, Mary McQueen, Barb Miner, Gain Stone, Judge David Tracy
Guest present: Justice Tom Chambers
Staff present: Gil Austin, Jude Cryderman and Jeff Hall
Call meeting to order
Call to order
The meeting was called to order by co-chair Kirk Johns. Mr. Johns asked that the members introduced themselves.
Mr. Johns advised the members of the procedures relating to the minutes. The minutes will be circulated to the members within 10 working days of the meeting. Members will have 5 working days to review and provide Jude with comments. The minutes will be approved at the next meeting.
Mr. Johns indicated the process is underway to collect and catalog the studies discussed at the March meeting.
Mr. Johns reminded the members that during the work group’s first meeting, the creation of committees to research/review specific areas of court funding was discussed. Those committees were identified as:
1) Constitutional and statutory committee,
2) prior studies—collection of prior studies,
4) facts and data (may not need to function as committee)—the data has been discussed ongoing,
5) structure and process—develop long term, adequate funding,
6) funding requirements—may have been taken over by the Problem Identification Work Group, and
7) funding sources.
After briefly discussing the committees, the members agreed to eliminate the committee on facts and data and merge the committees on structure and process and funding sources, with the whole work group tackling those issues. In addition, Mr. Johns recommended that the user fee be studied by the work group as a whole.
Task Force on Civil Equal Justice Funding
Mr. Johns introduced Justice Chambers, member of the Task Force on Civil Equal Justice Funding. Justice Chambers gave description of the Supreme Court Task Force.
Justice Tom Chambers spoke about the Task Force on Civil Equal Justice Funding chaired by Justice Johnson, which was created by order of the Supreme Court. Justice Chambers said the creation of the Task Force was based upon the premise that “if you don’t have justice for all, you don’t have justice.” He continued, if justice is only available to those with pocket books to pay for it, that’s not justice.
The Task Force created three subcommittees to deal with specific areas of study: The first subcommittee is chaired by Judge Mary Kay Becker. That group charge was to oversee a statewide large comprehensive survey conducted by Portland State University, a study similar to the one conducted recently in Oregon. That data was augmented by phone survey conducted by WSU. The purpose of the second study is to double check and make sure the findings of the survey are statistically sound. The evidence is quite remarkable, showing that 2/3 of poor families are headed by women. The study document is in its final stages. The Task Force is scheduled to meet over the summer to review the summarized conclusions.
The next subcommittee is Oversight, which is chaired by Judge Appelwick. The subcommittee was charge with creating a model that would administer funds. They studied three options for the oversight and administration of funds. One model was the Office of Public Defense, another was the Legal Foundation and the last was an oversight committee within the Administrative Office of the Courts. Judge Appelwick’s subcommittee chose the last option as the most workable.
The third subcommittee of the task force, chaired by Justice Chambers, was tasked with finding money. The subcommittee started to explore options in spring and by October has a proposal ready to take to the legislature. The subcommittee’s proposal was to increase the superior court filing fee from the current $110 to $200. Fifty-four percent of the additional $90 would go to the counties and legal services would have received 46 percent of the increase. The legislation did not pass during the 2003 session.
Justice Chambers explained that the political realities of court funding is different that those for legal services, as legal services tend to have traditional enemies. He said it is important to identify the problem. In his subcommittee’s case they needed to know how much money they were talking about. He indicated for his subcommittee, a reasonable estimate was $10-20 million per year. The subcommittee had agreed they would seek one financial source that would generate 75% of the funds required and fill in the other 25% with other small sources.
Justice Chambers concluded that there are no perfect solutions. He suggested that rather than debating the merits, catalog the pros and cons of each idea. At the end of the process take time to discuss the merits of each idea. He offered that there was opposition for each idea.
Justice Chambers advised, rather than pushing single proposal, they took advice from those most politically astute. He said the members remained flexible. He also suggested taking advantage of whatever momentum is in legislature. For example with B& O tax, go with momentum of legislature. He reminded the members, that sales tax on services surfaces about every 10-12 years. Strategy would be to earmark that increase on lawyers to civil equal justice. He said they waited for an opportunity, but this was not the session that legislature would pass any new taxes.
Justice Chambers advised that the whole Task Force will meet in August. He said the Task Force is waiting for the study to be completed. He said there have been some delays and the data needs to be analyzed. The Task Force will develop key conclusions that will be supported by the Supreme Court.
In response to questions, Justice Chambers indicated the Task Force has not yet defined the scope of the need they wish to cover. Judge Matheson noted that the scope of the need is significant in light of the possibility that if economically disadvantaged individuals were entitled to representation for every type of legal action, without regard for the cost, the courts themselves could become overwhelmed with the workload.
Justice Chambers also indicated they want to be “quick on their feet” to respond to opportunities as they present themselves for funding. There was a brief discussion regarding the fact that the Civil Equal Justice Task Force is established by the Supreme Court while the Trial Court Funding Task Force is established by BJA. Justice Chambers, while not speaking on behalf of the Supreme Court, recognized the importance of the judiciary in speaking with one voice through BJA.
The Work Group briefly discussed the filing fee proposal. Justice Chambers advised the members that the filing fee increase maybe a component for the next legislative session.
Mr. Blair indicated that Chief Justice Alexander is concerned that there may in fact be two separate pieces of legislation dealing with filing fee increases. The Chief is also concerned that the Board for Judicial Administration could be asked to choose between the two pieces of legislation.
The work group discussed the fee bills that were introduced during the 2003 legislative session.
Ms. Miner and Ms. Gould explained that the clerks proposal was that the increase not be earmarked for civil legal services, but be allocated for other services in support of the court.
Justice Chambers assured the work group that the legal services proposed increase in filing fee maintained the current split. This was done because the Task Force felt it was important that all parts of the judiciary agree on the legislative and funding proposals.
Ms. McQueen indicated the district court judges voiced their objection to being looked to solve a systemic problem. Not just increases in civil filing fees, but frustration across the judiciary over the tendency to raise money on backs of those who use the system.
Ms. McQueen reminded the members of Mr. Olson’s proposal that the work group define what services an increase in revenue would purchase. She continued what do we think has the possibility of raising/creating new revenue? If we raise XX dollars—what will be do with that? We’ll need to come up with recommendation on how the new money is distributed.
Judge Godfrey said any ideas should be forward to main task force body. Issue is coordination with other groups that are out there. Divide and conquer with legislature. Everyone in judiciary must be coordinated.
Ms. Ferebee stated she agrees with Judge Godfrey, we must identify problem, then decide who gets what before going to legislature.
Mr. Dowdy asked about the tactics of coordination and the strategic concern of overall fund raising.
Mr. Johns said the work group is not at a point where it can effectively discuss who get what share of the funds. He suggested discussions pertaining to different sources of funds which might give early warning signs of conflict. Mr. Johns feels it necessary to start having those discussions now. Mr. Johns suggest having a representative of Task Force on Civil Equal Justice Funding participate on this work group, problem definition, implementation and public education work groups. They need to hear what we are thinking about.
Mr. Mattson said the interest is that the core functions of the courts are adequately funded. Concern is that we speak with one voice. We need to figure if those interests are aligned and follow up.
Mr. Hall said at this point just need to communicate. We might not even be ready for next legislative session. Don’t know what will be out there at this point. We don’t know where we are going yet. Don’t think we are there yet.
Judge Hilyer asked when Civil Equal Justice might decide on their strategy for 2004 legislative session?
Justice Chambers responded that the Task Force has yet to quantify what needs are. Twenty million dollars could be low or high.
Judge Fleck asked when the final report will be done? Will the Task Force look for a single source for funding the $10-20 million or a variety of sources?
Justice Chambers responded that the Task Force had been slowed due to the study taking longer than anticipated and it taking longer than anticipated to summarize the data. The next task force meeting is scheduled in August. He advised that the Funding Subcommittee had not identified one particular funding source. He also advised that the filing fee was strictly a last minutes stop gap measure. Justice Chambers asked how much money the Funding Alternatives Task Force felt they wanted to raise.
Mr. Johns responded that whatever we as Funding Alternative Work Group recommends, not much reliance will be placed on the filing fee. He continued one example of early warning and cross communication would be to work under the notion to allocate the filing fee to Civil Equal Justice. Mr. Johns suggested that the Alternative Funding Work Group will try to steer clear of filing fee during the work group’s exercise.
Ms. Stone offered it is too early in process to make that type of decision. Both Task Forces keep in mind the needs of the other.
Justice Chambers said the Task Force feels that only one-fifth of those that need access to the courts are being provided that service. Core problems focus on women, domestic violence, housing, ability to get medicine and entitlements. One of the main reasons for a close analysis of the data is to determine whether the people that say they have a legal actually require the services of a lawyer.
Judge Fleck asked how the task force phasing request? What is the scope? Subject matter? Based on income only? Every type of legal needs? Only those constitution rights? Cradle to grave legal services?
Justice Chambers explained criteria of study. He pointed out that if issues are not threatening life or shelter resources are not available for assistance. He estimated that it would take approximately $4 million to return to the 1999 level of services.
Mr. Dowdy asked to what extent counting on LAW Fund?
Justice Chambers replied that sources like LAW Fund go into the 25%. LAW fund not come close to providing adequate funds.
Mr. Hjorth thanked Justice Chambers for his presentation.
Report on User Fees Being Considered by King County
Ms. Miner explained that King County is looking for ways to raise additional money. She explained the chart “estimate of potential revenues (related to motions).” She advised the members that follow-up information has not been gathered from those state/counties that currently have fees related to motions.
Ms. Miner next reviewed the bar chart outlining estimate of potential revenue for new proposed fees. The total revenue generated by King County would be $3.1 million.
Ms. Miner explained fee clients for King County are:
$31 M for Superior Courts, including juvenile probation and running of juvenile court
$18 M for juvenile detention
$14 M Clerk’s office
Ms. Miner next explained the judgment tax information.
Judge Hilyer explained where King County is looking for additional revenue: 1) expansion of existing fees; 2) expansion of fees within existing authority; 3) consider going to real user fee driven system that would require legislative changes. He said King county is officially looking at option 1, but is also considering option 2. Judge Hilyer confirmed that option 3, while not part of the court’s budget proposal for 2004, would be something that might be considered for a subsequent year and that it might therefore be something to be addressed in the 2004 legislative session.
The members briefly discussed obtaining information on user fees.
Mr. Hall was requested to obtain information from the NCSC on user fees. He will write a letter for Chief Justice Alexander and Mary requesting information from other states. Mr. Hall will compile and distribute information once collected.
Revenue from Potential Taxes
Mr. Hall reviewed the potential yield of additional 0.3% local sales/use tax and the FY 2005 revenue projections (Senate Bill 5669) charts.
The members briefly discussed increased to the B & O tax and placing a tax on legal services. Ms. Stone advised that the Bar Board of Governors’ has had similar discussions over the last few years. They concluded it would be more palatable for a temporary bump in B & O taxes, rather that a sales tax on legal services. She reminded the members that the tax on legal services is on invoices charged, not money collected.
Discussion of report and comments to be made on behalf of work group
Points made during the discussion follow:
Mr. Blair indicated that it would be helpful for the work group to determine the following in the next two meetings:
1) do we think more of the costs for the court system should be paid by the state if so what, rationale and 2) once figured out recommendation, then look at funding alternatives, identify as many as possible and figure out how much each fund can generate
Mr. Hjorth suggested a small group be created to determine the burden of the state and other government units.
The Resource Allocation Committee consists of Judge Godfrey, Judge Tracy, Barb Miner, Gail Stone, Joan Ferebee and Ron Mattson.
The next meeting of the Work Group is scheduled for July 10 at Two Union Square.
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