Shameless: Santa Clara County Admits to Planning to Pay for New Courthouse by Fees Charged to the Poor in Traffic and Family Court
Santa Clara County is Ground Zero for Judicial Controversy and on August 10, 2016, the state legislature will be faced with a vote to order the audit of the CJP, the state's judicial watchdog.
What should be equally concerning to state legislatures is how out of control the legal system has gotten as Californians pay for opulent courthouses and facilities off the fees charged to our poorest citizens to access those courthouses.
Santa Clara County clerks have been striking for three days, shuttering the very courthouses that are used by people merely seeking a divorce, custody , support or county services.
It is undisputed that courts raise revenue off poor citizens trapped in litigation, over which the county has a monopoly. Courts are not supposed to employ policies , practices, and prices that discourage access to the courts, including the court of appeal, but in reality that is exactly what Santa Clara County is doing, and how they clearly intend to pay for a shiny new $208,000,000 courthouse, while they won't pay court clerks , janitors , mediators and other workers even a living wage.
The reality of the fee raising are judges who don't timely hear motions, drag cases out for years and simply allow justice to fall through the cracks , permanently harming our poorest citizens and burdening other state and federal agencies. .
In an article in the San Jose Mercury, many court spokespersons are now longer specifically identified, but an article published on August 6, 2016 states :
( In reference to paying for the new courthouse while not giving court clerks a raise)
"To fund the debt service m the court was initially counting on a combination of hefty reserves, still decent annual state funding and millions in late fees owed by traffic violations and others."
This statement is on the heels of the county cutting clerks and service window hours for over a year, after claiming they had insufficient funds to pay the clerks and keep windows open. But when it comes to building a shiny new courthouse , to improve more the image of high powered administrators, the reserves were apparently now " hefty" .
This statement alone should warrant an investigation from Department of Justice, and should leave many to wonder what CJP and the Judicial Council are doing to protect Californians in Santa Clara County from a court system that is acting more like a revenue grabbing monster than a court of law.
Santa Clara has admitted to planning to using the legal system to charge more for traffic violations and " other " legal services. " Other" can be only civil, family and criminal cases held in the county. And the county is now also blaming the " state seizing the courts reserves and Judicial Council drastically revised Santa Clara County's funding to help needier counties" .
The truth is that Judge Erica Yew, having been chair of CJP kept the reserves from Judicial Council and the state flowing to the county for years , where CJP was not investigating county judges like Towery, Grilli, Persky , Chiarello, Folan ,Clark, Scott, Pierce and others ,where it is now clear years of complaints were suppressed by the county and CJP.
So with no political money the county turns to the poor in their own county to pay for their overspending and shiny new courthouse.
Family court victims often pay $90 for motions that are never heard and just kicked by a family court judge to final trial . Trials can cost litigants over $5000 in court fees, which don't even include the cost of lawyers, subpoenas and experts . Then there is the court reporter sham , where court reporters get paid $150 or more for a copy of the transcript, from both sides on a case, in addition to regular wages the county pays as consulting fees and then more in fees when they get paid again when a transcript us used on appeal.
Court reporters like Stephanie Estes are reported by court clerks to make as much as $1000 for one 30 minute hearing , and not reporting most of that income to the IRS as they insist lawyers and litigants pay in cash, to which no tax documents are provided for reporting to the IRS.
Then there are the millions the county collects in appeals fees, from poor litigants unable to navigate the appeals process pro per and where appeals are dismissed, forgotten or left in limbo, the fees paid left behind in county coffers .
But all these court fees aren't going to the clerks, the mediators the janitors and the staff that really do the work Those people are offered a max of 9.5% pay increase for the past several years, and all the fees the county is intentionally trying to earn are going to pay for a $208,000,000 courthouse many say we don't need.
This has angered so many who have dedicated their time and careers to the courts that it seems an all out war is emerging between the clerks and the judges.
Local court boss David Yamaskai seems to be the center of the controversy . He has protected bad judges, appears on the edge of corruption and is rumored to be misusing the $208,000,000 he managed in building the new courthouse by shifting " extras " and : kickbacks " from the project to his personal residence and perhaps to the residences and rental properties of his buddies and judges. Some are even suggesting a relationship with Yamaskai and Intero real estate, where judges are appointing agents to sell properties during court cases, over agents from other real estate firms, and where Valerie Houghton's indictment is raising some eyebrows due to her husband's employment with Intero real estate..
As the truth boils over, one thing is clear; it was a huge misstep for the county to build a fancy new building and forget the little folks who do the work to keep that building operating in the name of justice.