SAN FRANCISCO — Opponents of Proposition 115, the wide-ranging Crime Victims Justice Reform initiative on the June ballot, claimed Tuesday that the measure could cost taxpayers more than $500 million a year if enacted.
Lawyers for foes of the initiative announced that they have asked a Sacramento judge to order state authorities to revise voter pamphlets and other official ballot material that say the measure's fiscal impact is "unknown."
"That's simply not correct," Stephen V. Bomse, an attorney for Californians for Privacy, a coalition of defense lawyers, academicians and civil rights groups, said at a news conference. "It's unfair to the voters of California to be told the cost of the initiative is impossible to quantify."
In legal papers filed before Sacramento Superior Court Judge James T. Ford, opponents claimed that the initiative not only would prove costly--but also would "fundamentally change the system of government" by repealing or limiting a vast array of state constitutional rights.
However, Kern County Dist. Atty. Ed Jagels, chairman of the Crime Victims California Justice Committee, chief sponsor of the initiative, flatly rejected the opponents' claims. He said that the measure's reforms actually could save taxpayers more than $500 million a year.
"This is a political document filed by desperate criminal defense attorneys who realize that if this campaign is waged on substance, they are going to lose overwhelmingly," Jagels said.
Among other things, Proposition 115 would impose a series of procedural changes aimed at reducing delay in criminal proceedings--such as eliminating preliminary hearings for defendants already indicted by a grand jury and requiring fewer court appearances by victims and other witnesses.
The 41-page initiative also would expand the death penalty, stiffen the punishment for killings by juveniles, establish torture as a specific crime and limit the rights of criminal defendants to those required by the U.S. Supreme Court under the federal Constitution.
Foes of the measure cited a study by San Francisco State University economics professor C. Daniel Vencill estimating that it would cost an added $561.9 million a year to pay for more judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and facilities to meet the demands of the initiative.
Also presented were statements by several county public defenders saying they anticipated massive budgetary increases under the measure. The defenders said, for example, that without preliminary hearings in which to test the strength of the prosecution's case, more defendants would elect to go to trial rather than plead guilty. And more prosecutors and defense attorneys would be needed to ensure felony cases go to trial within 60 days, as required by the initiative, they said.
In response, Jagels said that by restricting preliminary hearings, substantial savings will be made in the time lawyers, officials and witnesses must spend in court. Similarly, he said, the measure's limits on questioning of prospective jurors will reduce the length of trials, resulting in reduced costs. It is very doubtful, he said, that more defendants would elect not to plead guilty.
In their lawsuit, opponents said Proposition 115 would result "in the most significant change in the state's constitutional scheme and criminal justice system in this century."
In limiting defendants' rights to due process, equal protection, speedy trial, privacy and other guarantees, the measure, in effect, will transfer the "ultimate responsibility" for interpreting the state Constitution from California courts to federal courts, the suit said.