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Supervisors Hold Off on Court Funding

Budget: Board rejects project to ease overcrowding at jury assembly room, deadlocks on more operating funds.


SANTA ANA — The Board of Supervisors told court officials Tuesday that the county simply can't afford a $1.5-million project to ease overcrowding at the Municipal Court in Santa Ana's jury assembly room.

Court officials insist the jury assembly room is so crowded it's dangerous. The room is designed for 214 people but often fills with 400 or more prospective jurors, forcing many to lean against walls or sit on the floor.

A proposed $1.5-million expansion would create a second jury room in a portion of the courthouse's third-floor cafeteria area.

Most supervisors expressed concern about the problem, but said the county is still recovering from bankruptcy and doesn't have the money for the project.

"I know that this is less than a desirable situation," Supervisor William G. Steiner said. "We have many high [priority] funding issues to consider."

Supervisor Don Saltarelli proposed that the county spend $150,000 to design the jury room, saying the overcrowding poses "a serious problem that must be solved." But his idea died when no other supervisor supported it. Instead, the board asked county officials to examine alternatives to ease overcrowding, such as using space in an adjacent building.

Also Tuesday, the supervisors deadlocked 2 to 2 on a proposal by Chief Executive Officer Jan Mittermeier to allocate an additional $21 million for the basic costs of running the courts this fiscal year.

The final county budget, which supervisors approved Tuesday, provides $107.9 million for the courts, only a portion of the money needed to pay for 12 months of operations. The state is expected to make a contribution to the courts, though the exact amount has not been determined.

Officials had said the extra $21 million in county funds would get the courts through next summer if the state provides another $24 million.

Although supervisors agreed that the county eventually must allocate more money to the courts, some board members said they should wait until the state acts.

Some supervisors also criticized the proposal because about half of the $21 million would come from a $26-million account established this year for the early repayment of bankruptcy-related debts.

The board asked county officials to determine whether there are other sources of funding that could be tapped for the courts.

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