On the right track to fund courts

by Martha Escutia

When Gov. Wilson signed my court reform bill, AB 233, last month, Chief Justice Ron George promptly called it "the biggest reform of California’s system of justice this century." Was the chief justice exaggerating? Absolutely not. After decades of deteriorating courts, AB 233 is a truly historic reform that, as the new year starts, promises to create a stable, long-term funding solution for our trial courts. The bill will fundamentally change the way California runs, and funds, its courts.

AB 233 includes the following major benefits for the state, its 58 counties and court systems:

Those of you who use our courts know just how badly they need the state’s help. They have faced increasingly severe problems, including:

AB 233 attacks each of these problems. As noted above, AB 233 targets each of these problems forcefully — by requiring the state to begin paying for the lion’s share of trial court costs, by freeing up over a third of a billion dollars every year for our ailing cities and counties, by making our judges better trained about fairness and diversity issues, and by helping to cut court delay.

Of course, this bill will not be a panacea for all the intractable problems that have faced our ailing justice system for so long. No single piece of legislation can be. However, I am confident that this "justice reform of the century" will help put California on the right track to rebuilding a court system it can be proud of in the new millennium.

Assemblywoman Martha Escutia, D-Huntington Park, is chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee.