BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    






                             SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE
                             Senator Noreen Evans, Chair
                              2013-2014 Regular Session


          AB 1293 (Bloom)
          As Amended April 23, 2013
          Hearing Date: June 25, 2013
          Fiscal: No
          Urgency: No
          BCP


                                        SUBJECT
                                           
                                       Courts

                                      DESCRIPTION  

          This bill would create a new $40 fee for requests of special  
          notice filed in probate proceedings, including proceedings  
          involving decedents' estates, conservatorships, guardianships,  
          and trusts.

                                      BACKGROUND  

          Over the past five years, California's judicial branch has  
          experienced ongoing budget reductions of $535 million and has  
          diverted around $1 billion in courthouse construction funds to  
          support court operations.  Those catastrophic budget reductions  
          have crippled California's court system by, among other things,  
          forcing the closure of courts and self-help centers, which has  
          resulted in delayed access to justice for a large number of  
          Californians.  

          In response to those budget reductions, the Judicial Council  
          reviewed potential cost savings and efficiencies that could be  
          implemented to allow the courts to function with fewer  
          resources.  One of the results of that effort was the  
          development of 17 legislative proposals for trial court  
          operational efficiencies, cost savings, and new revenue.  A  
          report on those proposals detailed the process by which the  
          proposals were generated as follows:
           
            Proposals for efficiencies, costs savings, and new revenue  
            were initially solicited from presiding judges and court  
                                                                (more)



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            executive officers.  Submissions were received and initially  
            compiled by the AOC Finance staff.  The proposals were  
            forwarded to the Office of Governmental Affairs to  
            coordinate the next steps.  The chairs of the Trial Court  
            Presiding Judges Advisory Committee and the Court Executives  
            Advisory Committee each appointed 7 members for a 14-person  
            [Presiding Judge (PJ) / Court Executive Officer [CEO]) Trial  
            Court Efficiencies Working Group.  The matrix of proposals  
            was revised and circulated to the group.  Additional  
            proposals were added as they were received, from whomever  
            they were received.  The working group met three times by  
            conference call, reviewing each of the proposals submitted.   
            The working group recommended that roughly one-half of those  
            proposals be forwarded for consideration for Judicial  
            Council sponsorship.

            In the meantime, at the direction of the chair of the  
            Executive and Planning Committee and the chair of [the  
            Policy Coordination and Liaison Committee (PCLC)], the  
            chairs of most of the council's subject matter advisory  
            committees, the Open Courts Coalition, and the president of  
            the California Judges Association were asked to designate  
            members to participate on an Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on  
            Court Efficiencies, Cost Savings, and New Revenue. The ad  
            hoc committee was created to ensure that all of the  
            proposals could be acted on timely, while retaining for the  
            council the benefit of the expertise of the various advisory  
            committees.  The Ad Hoc Advisory Committee met by conference  
            call four times to review the proposals recommended by the  
            PJ/CEO Trial Court Efficiencies Working Group.  The advisory  
            committee further winnowed the proposals for recommendation  
            to the PCLC for council sponsorship.  This process resulted  
            in 24 proposals for statutory change being forwarded to PCLC  
            for consideration for council sponsorship.  PCLC, under the  
            authority expressly delegated to it for these purposes in  
            December 2011, approved 17 of those proposals for council  
            sponsorship.  (Judicial Council of Cal., Policy Coordination  
            and Liaison Com. Rep., Judicial Council Legislative  
            Priorities: 2013 (Dec. 14, 2012)  
              
            [as of June 20, 2013] pp. 3-4.) 

          Of those 17 proposals, eleven were included in both the  
          Governor's Proposed 2013-14 Budget and the May Revise.  The  
          Senate Budget Committee recommended adopting eight of those  
          proposals, while the Assembly Budget Committee recommended  
                                                                      



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          adopting four.  The Budget Conference Committee adopted the  
          Assembly's recommendations, thus, four of the 17 proposals were  
          included in the 2013-14 Budget.

          Accordingly, this bill, sponsored by the Judicial Council of  
          California, seeks to enact one of the 17 proposals that was not  
          included in the final 2013-14 Budget.  Specifically, this bill  
          would add a new probate fee of $40 for the filing of a request  
          for special notice in proceedings regarding a decedent's estate,  
          guardianship, conservatorship, or trust.  That filing fee seeks  
          to compensate courts for the costs involved in processing these  
          special notices.

                                CHANGES TO EXISTING LAW
           
           Existing law  provides that any person interested in a proceeding  
          for the administration of a decedent's estate, whether a  
          devisee, heir, creditor, or beneficiary under a trust, may file  
          with the court clerk a written request for special notice.  That  
          special notice may be requested for one or more of the  
          following:  (1) petitions filed in the administration  
          proceeding; (2) inventories and appraisals of property in the  
          estate; (3) objections to an appraisal; (4) accounts of a  
          personal representative; or (5) reports of status of  
          administration.  (Prob. Code Sec. 1250.)

           Existing law  , in a proceeding concerning a conservatorship or  
          guardianship, allows a ward, if over 14 years of age or the  
          conservatee, the spouse of the ward or the spouse or domestic  
          partner of the conservatee, any relative or creditor of the ward  
          or conservatee, or any other interested person to file with the  
          court clerk a written request for special notice.  That special  
          notice may be requested for any one or more of the following:   
          (1) petitions filed in the guardianship or conservatorship  
          proceeding; (2) inventories and appraisals of property in the  
          estate; (3) accounts of the guardian or conservator; or (4)  
          proceedings for the final termination of the guardianship or  
          conservatorship proceeding.  (Prob. Code Sec. 2700.)
          
           Existing law  , in proceedings involving a trust, allows a  
          beneficiary or creditor to file with the court clerk a written  
          request for special notice of the filing of petitions regarding  
          the trust.  (Prob. Code Sec. 17204.)

           This bill  would provide that the filing fee for a request for  
          special notice in a decedent's estate, guardianship,  
                                                                      



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          conservatorship or trust proceeding is $40.
          
                                        COMMENT
           
          1.   Stated need for the bill  

          According to the author:

            AB 1293 will assist the judicial branch, especially the  
            trial courts, in implementing efficiencies and cost-recovery  
            measures during this era of significantly decreased general  
            fund support for the courts.  From fiscal year 2007-08 to  
            the current year, according to the State Legislative  
            Analyst's office, state General Fund share of the entire  
            judicial branch budget fell from 56 [percent] to just 20  
            [percent].  Last year alone, state General Fund support for  
            the judicial branch was reduced by $544 million.
            . . .
            Because of the challenging budget times in which we find  
            ourselves, and despite the fact that all parties - from the  
            court users themselves to the Chief Justice of California -  
            would prefer to not have to increase fees, we must bolster  
            the judicial branch as best we can with the most practical  
            solutions available.  The trial courts are suffering from a  
            sharp decrease in funding.  

          The author further notes that AB 1293 would add a $40 fee for  
          the filing of a request for special notice in decedents' estate,  
          guardianship, conservatorship, or trust proceedings to help  
          courts cover their costs incurred.
          2.   Codifying a new filing fee for special notice  

          This bill would create a new $40 filing fee for requests for  
          special notice filed by interested persons in proceedings for  
          the administration of a decedent's estate, conservatorships or  
          guardianships, or trusts.  Those requests for special notice  
          essentially require a person filing certain documents to provide  
          notice of the filing of those documents to the requesting party.  
           Although the notice is not provided by the court, the author  
          asserts that the proposed fee would cover court costs incurred  
          to ensure the proper service of notices and other documents,  
          and, if notice has not been given, the cost of postponing  
          hearings so that proper notice can be given to the requesting  
          parties.

          Regarding the fiscal impact of the fee on the courts, the  
                                                                      



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          above-cited Judicial Council report noted that: "This proposal  
          would result in new revenue to the courts of $190,159. Using  
          data from three courts, [Administrative Office of the Courts  
          (AOC)] staff estimated that 5.63 percent of probate filings  
          involve a request for special notice, for a total of 2,377  
          cases (5.63 percent of 42,220 cases). Because the data was  
          limited, and because, in many instances, there are multiple  
          requests for special notice, the resulting revenue number was  
          multiplied by 2, yielding potential revenue of $190,159."  
          (Judicial Council of Cal., Policy Coordination and Liaison  
          Com. Rep., Judicial Council Legislative Priorities: 2013 (Dec.  
          14, 2012)  
           [as  
          of June 20, 2013] p. 26.) 

          Staff notes that, as stated above by the author, all parties  
          would prefer not to increase fees, but, the significant  
          reduction in funding for the Judicial branch places courts in an  
          untenable position.  Regarding the impact of those cuts, a  
          recent survey by the Trial Court Presiding Judges' Advisory  
          Committee found, among other things, that:
           at least 53 courthouses have been closed statewide, but that  
            number will increase to 60 if Los Angeles closes another  
            seven;
           at least 175 courtrooms have been closed statewide;
           31 counties have reduced the hours their public windows are  
            open;
           at least 38 counties have reduced their self-help services;  
            and
           at least 28 counties have stopped providing court reporter  
            services in at least one case type; and at least 11 counties  
            are unable to process domestic violence temporary restraining  
            orders the same day they are filed.
            
          It should also be noted that as a result of the recent actions  
          taken in the Budget Conference Committee, the 2013-14 State  
          Budget includes an additional $63 million for the judicial  
          branch, but, even after that additional funding, trial courts  
          face prior and on-going reductions of $415 million.  




          3.   Concerns about turning courts into a fee-for-service  
          institution  

                                                                      



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          As a matter of public policy, it is important to consider the  
          impact of any new fee affecting the ability for Californians to  
          access justice.  Although court user fees have been used to  
          increase revenue to some extent in recent years, there has been  
          increasing concern that further reliance on those fees will turn  
          the courts into a fee-for-service institution.

          While most parties agree that trial courts are currently in  
          desperate need of additional funding to prevent further closures  
          and delays in access to justice, it is unclear whether the  
          proposed $40 fee will continue to be necessary if the Judicial  
          branch is successful in seeking additional funds in upcoming  
          budget years.  Given the general concerns about turning the  
          courts into a fee-for-service institution, and the author's  
          statement that no party actually wants to increase fees, the  
          following amendment is suggested to add a 5-year sunset to the  
          proposed fee.  That sunset would allow the Legislature to review  
          the continued need for the fee in light of any changes in trial  
          court funding.

             Suggested amendment:  

            Add five year sunset


           Support  :  None Known

           Opposition  :  None Known

                                        HISTORY
           
           Source  :  Judicial Council of California

           Related Pending Legislation  :  None Known

           Prior Legislation  :  None Known

           Prior Vote  :

          Assembly Committee on Judiciary (Ayes 6, Noes 3)
          Assembly Floor (Ayes 46, Noes 30)

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