California Proposition 220, Superior and Municipal Court Consolidation Amendment (1998)
Proposition 220 permitted the superior and municipal courts in a county to consolidate their operations if a majority of the superior court and municipal court judges in the county agreed to the consolidation. Under the terms of the proposition, if a consolidation was agreed to, the county's municipal courts would be abolished and all municipal court judges and employees would become superior court judges and employees.
Proposition 220 made a number of other related changes and what are known as "conforming changes" to the constitution; these had to do with the minimum qualifications of, and election of, judges in consolidated courts. Proposition 200 also made:
- Related and conforming changes to the membership of the Commission on Judicial Performance, which handles complaints against judges.
- Related, conforming, and other minor changes to the membership and terms of the California Judicial Council, which oversees and administers the state's courts.
Advocates for Proposition 220 said that by centralizing the administration of California's state court system, pressure on county finances would be relieved, since the 58 counties would no longer need to concern themselves with court upkeep, the repair and restoration of older courthouses, and overall financial accounting and management.
In 2009, as tax revenues to the state went into freefall, court observers noted that the judicial centralization caused by Proposition 220 had created a series of unintended consequences. One of those consequences? "...shifting financial responsibility to Sacramento puts them in competition with other sectors of the state budget for increasingly limited dollars."
As well, the California State Legislature began an investigation into "why the court system, headed by Ron George, has sharply expanded its administrative staff and spent many millions of dollars on a statewide computer system that isn't working. And those legislative inquiries are being egged on by a coalition of lower court judges who have been compelled to close their courtrooms periodically to save money."
George defended the consolidation in an interview in 2009, saying, "Much of the loudest, much of the shrillest criticism – and I'm being charitable here – are from people who aren't fully informed. A lot of this is an effort to dismantle the statewide administration of justice because with the statewide administration of justice comes accountability."
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The changes made to the California Constitution as a result of the approval of Proposition 220 were:
- Section 16 of Article I was amended.
- Section 1 of Article VI was amended.
- Section 4 of Article VI was amended.
- Section 5 of Article VI was amended.
- Section 6 of Article VI was amended.
- Section 8 of Article VI was amended.
- Section 10 of Article VI was amended.
- Section 11 of Article VI was amended.
- Section 16 of Article VI was amended.
- Section 23 of Article VI was added.
Text of measure
The ballot title was:
The official ballot summary said:
- Provides for consolidation of superior court and municipal court in county upon approval by majority of superior court judges and of municipal court judges in that county.
- Upon consolidation, the superior court has jurisdiction over all matters now handled by superior and municipal court, municipal court judges become superior court judges, and the municipal court is abolished.
- Makes related changes to constitutional provisions regarding municipal courts.
- Provides for addition of nonvoting members to Judicial Council and lengthens some members' terms.
The California Legislative Analyst's Office provided an estimate of net state and local government fiscal impact for Proposition 220. That estimate was:
- "Unknown net fiscal impact to the state from consolidation of superior and municipal courts. To the extent that most courts choose to consolidate, there would likely be annual net savings in the millions to tens of millions of dollars in the long term."
- "The California Constitution provides for superior and municipal courts, referred to as the state's "trial courts." Currently, the state and the counties pay for the operation of the trial courts. Recent changes in law require that the state pay for all future increases in operating costs, beginning on July 1, 1997.
- Superior courts generally handle cases involving felonies, family law (for example, divorce cases), juvenile law, civil lawsuits involving more than $25,000, and appeals from municipal court decisions. Each of the state's counties has a superior court. Currently, there are 805 superior court judgeships.
- Municipal courts generally handle misdemeanors and infractions and most civil lawsuits involving disputes of $25,000 or less. Counties are divided into municipal court districts based on population. Currently, there are 675 municipal court judgeships.
- Current law requires trial courts to improve their operations in a variety of ways. For example, judges of either court may hear both superior and municipal court cases and staff can be shared between the superior and municipal courts within a county."
Path to the ballot
Proposition 220 was voted onto the ballot by the California State Legislature via SCA 4.
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