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Hotly contested legislation that split the state's judiciary system over issues of money and power was approved today by the Assembly.

The measure, Assembly Bill 1208, passed by a vote of 41-23.

The bill was pushed by a group of judges called the Alliance of California Judges and was backed by Service Employees International Union, representing courthouse employees.

AB 1208 would shift authority from the state's Judicial Council -- led by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye -- to create a more formula-driven funding approach that would give more power to trial courts in setting spending priorities.

The bill by Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, stems from years of budget crisis that have taken a toll on courts, sparking cuts of $350 million during the current budget cycle and nearly $300 in additional cuts over the past five years.

Supporters of AB 1208 contend that while courtrooms have closed and hundreds of employees have been laid off, the Judicial Council has invested heavily in a statewide case management system that has been riddled with problems.

The case management project, initially expected to cost $209 million, has seen its price tag soar: Completion is now expected to cost $1.9 billion.

Many opponents of AB 1208 have concerns about the statewide case management system, but they see the bill as an "unwarranted and unwise intrusion" into internal judicial matters and feel that Cantil-Sakauye should be given time to resolve concerns, according to an Assembly analysis of the bill.

Opponents of AB 1208 argue that it makes little sense to weaken efforts launched 15 years ago to provide a statewide court system with continuity in judicial procedures from county to county.

Forty-four of 58 presiding judges of the county courts were among opponents of AB 1208.

The bill now goes to the Senate.


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