Legislature reconsiders sweep of court automation fund

Gary Grado//April 18, 2012

Legislature reconsiders sweep of court automation fund

Gary Grado//April 18, 2012

John Kavanagh

Legislative budget staffers are re-evaluating a proposed $10 million sweep of a Supreme Court fund after court officials howled that losing the money would cripple courts across Arizona.

The legislative budget proposal targets the Supreme Court Automation Fund, which is supplied by fees for defensive-driving classes, time payment fees for people who make payments on their court fines, and surcharges on fines.

Rep. John Kavanagh, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the thinking behind the sweep was that the fund was a state-owned account that had too much money in it.

Kavanagh met with a Supreme Court court lobbyist Monday who gave him a list of concerns the court had with the sweep, which he handed over to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee staff for evaluation.

“The only monies we wanted to take were legitimate state monies that were in excess, and if this is not an excess bank account fund, we will need to back away from it,” Kavanagh said.

The fund is meant for automation for the state’s entire court system, said Jennifer Liewer, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Supreme Court.

The fund’s many uses include the electronic transmittal of citations from police to the courts, transmittal of dispositions from the courts to Motor Vehicle Division and Department of Public Safety and the juvenile and adult probation systems, Liewer said.

Without the fund, she said courts would be left to process cases manually, causing long delays for people wanting to access the courts and putting criminal cases in danger of being dismissed for missing deadlines.

“Courts throughout the state would not be able to process their cases so they could collect and distribute $400 million in funds,” Liewer said. “So, you would basically be bringing to a halt the ability for the courts to manage and distribute $400 million in state revenue. If they target this fund, it would be catastrophic for the courts.”

Kavanagh said staff should have its evaluation completed by April 23.

He distinguished the sweep from “traditional sweeps” where the fund is fed by user fees or industry contributions not intended to run state government that are taken for that purpose.

“We’re not doing those,” Kavanagh said. “There are a cornucopia of bank accounts, or funds, that collect government money and sometimes they don’t spend it all and it’s in excess. That’s legitimate for us to transfer from one account to another.”

Liewer said court lobbyists are meeting with lawmakers and providing them with a fact sheet that details the disaster that could ensue.

Kavanagh said the sweep isn’t in retaliation for the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate Independent Redistricting Commission Chairwoman Colleen Mathis in November after Gov. Jan Brewer ousted her or for any other legal decisions lawmakers found unfavorable.

“If we were acting that way, we would have stripped the court of money a long time ago,” Kavanagh said.