Open Meetings Rule Called a Success

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Contact: <a href="">Blaine Corren</a>, 415-865-7740

August 21, 2015

Open Meetings Rule Called a Success

Judicial Council hears first annual review of rule that opened advisory committee meetings to the public; also approves traffic and infraction amnesty guidelines for courts and counties

Sutter County Superior Court executive officer Mary Beth Todd
Sutter County Superior Court executive officer Mary Beth Todd updates the council on the statewide Traffic Amnesty program.

SAN FRANCISCO— Calling the Judicial Council’s year-old open-meeting rule a success, Court of Appeal Justice Douglas P. Miller reported that all the council’s advisory meetings related to court funding and facilities during the first year were open to the public. He added that the rule was doing what it was designed to do: Make the judicial branch more transparent without compromising the ethics of judges and justices or slowing down the decision-making process of the judicial branch.

The report shows that out of 293 meetings held during the first year, 51 percent were open to the public, including all meetings related to court funding (16) and court facilities (8). The closed meetings fit into one of the exemptions outlined by Rule 10.75, of the California Rules of Court, which include those related to court security or personnel issues.

“The rule is working as designed and is making a complete and welcome addition to the more open and transparent approach the Chief Justice and this council have taken over the past four years,” said Justice Miller, chair of the council’s Executive and Planning Committee, which oversaw the creation and implementation of the rule. “The rule achieved its goal of expanding public access, greater openness and transparency, and uniformity of procedures for the council’s advisory bodies. At the same time, it protected judicial ethics and maintained the committees’ effectiveness.”

The council will continue to monitor the public access rule but agreed that no changes were necessary at this time.

Statewide Traffic Amnesty Program Guidelines
The council also approved guidelines that provide local courts and counties direction on how to carry out an 18-month  amnesty program for unpaid traffic and non-traffic infraction tickets.

The amnesty program―called for in the FY 2015–2016 state budget and which starts on Oct. 1—will help qualifying individuals by reducing their outstanding court-ordered debt by 50 or 80 percent and making it easier for drivers to have their suspended driver’s licenses reinstated.

The council received input on the guidelines from a variety of stakeholders, including courts, counties, advocacy groups, the Department of Finance, and the Governor’s Office. In addition, the council and the courts will continue outreach to the public about the program through information posted on their websites, as well as an insert that the DMV will include in vehicle registration notices.

Other items on the meeting agenda included:

Facilities: The council approved the allocation of the $65 million appropriated by the Legislature for courthouse modifications in FY 2015–2016, which will only cover emergency and critical needs. The council also received reports to be submitted to the Department of Finance on unmet facilities needs, including: a report on deferred maintenance for California’s courthouses that identifies more than 2,800 needed fixes worth $2.1 billion; and an annual update to the judicial branch’s five-year infrastructure plan that lists 100 unfunded court construction projects.

FY 2016-2017 Budget Proposals for Judicial Branch: The council approved fiscal year 2016–17 budget change proposals to submit to the Department of Finance that prioritize requests for increased funding for the judicial branch. Priorities include support for trial court operations, new justices and judges, court-appointed counsel, case management systems, court security, and needed courthouse renovations.

An archived audiocast of the entire meeting broken out by topic will be available on the August 20-21 council meeting webpage later this week.