Monday, October 10, 2016

County snubs Law Library: Civil grand jury urged ongoing funding; San Mateo County says ’no’

The San Mateo County Law Library will not get any extra money from the Board of Supervisors to stave off its fiscal crisis, according to a report by County Manager John Maltbie.
The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury issued its own report in June that urged the board to provide supplemental funding to the Law Library since its primary source of funding from civil court filing fees has steadily decreased since 2010.
The grand jury report stated that the library, near the Hall of Justice in downtown Redwood City, is in “serious jeopardy” and a “unique resource.”
But in a response letter to the grand jury, the Board of Supervisors states that there are cheaper ways to provide services such as expanded use of online legal resource systems and public libraries.
The Law Library served nearly 8,000 patrons in fiscal year 2014-15. About half were members of the general public, county employees and students and the other half were members of the legal community.
Library revenue have decreased 52 percent in five years.
The grand jury wanted supervisors to promptly adopt a formal policy to mitigate the Law Library’s fiscal crisis and establish ongoing supplemental funding immediately.
But the county responded that it is time for the Law Library, which turns 100 this year, to explore other less expensive models for delivering services such as expanded use of online tools Westlaw and LexisNexis.
Per state law, California County Law Libraries are funded by a portion of a litigant’s fee on their first filing in court, whether a complaint or answer, which amounts to $38.50 per filing. A small claims court filing, however, only generates $3 for the libraries.
The San Mateo County Law Library’s income in 2010-11 was $841,000 but dropped to $549,544 for the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to library Director Andrew Gurthet.
Gurthet has been forced to suspend updating the library’s book collection, layoff four part-time employees, cut evening and weekend hours and suspend some of its electronic databases to reduce the budget.
The library has had to dip into its reserves to cover recent budgets, Gurthet previously told the Daily Journal.
In 2014-15, the library was funded through 14,165 filings, the lowest number of filing since 1974.
In 1988, the library was funded by a record number of filings at 27,800.
It is unclear why there is a drop but there is speculation, Gurthet previously said.
Some theories include that more people are opting to take the mediation or arbitration route rather than solving disputes through the courts. Court consolidation, the increase of small claims limits to $10,000 and an improving economy may also be a factor.
The county, however, maintains that the Law Library needs to cut costs.
“When the county is satisfied that the Law Library has exhausted all reasonable means to cut costs while maintaining adequate resource materials and services, the county will at that point consider the possibility of providing supplemental funding,” Maltbie wrote in a report to the board.
The county does provide the library its space and facility maintenance for free, a requirement by the state.
The San Mateo County Law Library Foundation is a nonprofit agency that is seeking tax-deductible donations to keep the library operating.
September 20, 2016
San Mateo Daily Journal
By Bill Silverfarb

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