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Bill Shifting Costs of Courts to State Sent to Governor

September 13, 1987|RICHARD C. PADDOCK and DOUGLAS SHUIT | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Landmark legislation that would shift the burden of trial court costs from the counties to the state, allow Gov. George Deukmejian to name 109 new judges and permit experimentation with the jury selection process was passed by the Legislature early Saturday morning just before it shut down for the year.

In the waning hours of the legislative session, the Senate also rejected a bill that would have prohibited job discrimination against AIDS patients--a major shift in policy from a year ago when similar proposals twice won the Senate's approval.

The actions were among dozens of hurried decisions--including rejection of trauma center funds and approval of new car pollution controls--made by the Assembly and Senate as they struggled to meet their midnight Friday deadline for adjournment.

With a burst of self-congratulatory speeches, the Assembly shut down at about 12:30 a.m. Saturday. The Senate, meanwhile, staggered to a halt shortly after 3 a.m.--but only after two senators who had gone home to bed were called back to cast crucial votes on the court-financing legislation.

Debate on Incidentals

Crushed as they were under the weight of the state's major legislative issues, lawmakers found time to engage in vigorous debate of incidental matters, ranging from the propriety of naming public facilities after themselves to the merits of the Vietnam War.

"After months of debate, conflict and honest differences strongly felt, we were able to engage in give and take, negotiations and compromise," said Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) after the Assembly adjourned.

Before leaving for a three-month vacation, legislators in both houses passed and sent to Deukmejian a bill that would give the state the responsibility to pay for all operations of the Municipal and Superior Courts.

Hastily drafted on Wednesday, the bill would relieve county governments of $285 million in expenditures, a move long sought by county officials.

In an effort to relieve court congestion, the legislation also would create 64 new Superior Court judgeships, 34 Municipal Court positions and 11 more appellate court seats. Deukmejian, who campaigned for reelection last year on his record of appointing "common-sense judges," would be empowered to fill all the new seats.

The legislation was the product of last-minute negotiations between lawmakers and the governor's office. Asked during a news conference Saturday whether he will sign the bill, Deukmejian said, "I would like to see the final version, but I think you can say I am certainly leaning in that direction."

Deukmejian had called on legislators to agree to a number of "reforms" to speed up trials as a condition of his approval for the state's takeover of court financing. One of his chief complaints about the current system is the often-lengthy examination of potential jurors by attorneys.

But the final result gave the governor far less than he had wanted. Rather than authorizing major changes in the jury-selection process, the bill would allow Santa Cruz and Fresno counties to establish pilot projects to test a system in which judges, rather than the attorneys, would question potential jurors before selection of the jury.

The bill, carried by Sen. Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward), was passed by a 75-1 vote in the Assembly, where Speaker Brown had played a major role in drafting the measure.

Nearly Derailed

In the Senate, the bill passed 28 to 10, but only after opponents nearly succeeded in derailing the measure on procedural grounds. Finally, Sens. Alfred E. Alquist (D-San Jose) and Newton R. Russell (R-Glendale), who had left the Capitol earlier in the evening, were summoned back to vote for the measure just after 3 a.m.

Opponents insisted that numerous legislative rules were violated in bringing the bill to the Senate floor. But supporters said the legislation was so important that the end justified the means.

"This kind of hanky-panky I go along with," said Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia).

Beginning next July 1, when the legislation would take effect, the direct cost to the state is expected to be $770 million. But the state would receive $456 million that the counties now get in legal fees and fines. The new judges would add another $46.8 million in state costs to the court-financing package, bringing the total net cost to the state to about $332 million.

In refusing to adopt the AIDS anti-discrimination proposal, the Senate rejected a bill by Assemblyman Art Agnos (D-San Francisco) that would have broadened the state's AIDS policy and softened confidentiality requirements for AIDS tests.

Conservative members of the Senate, led by Sen. John Doolittle (R-Rocklin), defeated the measure on the grounds that some workers with AIDS, including those who work in food preparation and health care, should not be protected from losing their jobs.

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