Chief justice to Brown: Courts need money

State Supreme Court Tani Cantil-Sakauye says Gov. Brown’s draft budget doesn’t provide sufficient funding for California’s sprawling court system, which has been battered by years of cuts and complaints about its spending.

The chief justice on Tuesday unveiled a proposed three-year plan to fund the courts.

“Only one penny of every General Fund dollar supports California courts — not enough to sustain a fully functioning system,” the report noted. “Unprecedented budget cuts since 2008 hamper the people’s access to justice.”

Brown in his 2014-15 budget called for $3.3 billion in total funding for the judicial branch, with $2.5 billion going toward the trial courts. Cantil-Sakauye’s plan calls for an additional $612 million this year as the first installment to recovering the system. Her proposal calls for an additional $1.2 billion over three years. The money would beef up court operations, fill the positions of new judgeships that have been vacant because of  lack of funding and assure health and retirement benefits for employees.

“I am grateful and appreciative of the governor’s budget for the judicial branch, but in all candor, meaningful justice requires more,” she told reporters.

Cuts in the trial courts have forced the closure of 51 courthouses and 205 courtrooms, and reduced hours of public access at 30 courts.  More than three-dozen courts cut back on self-help and law facilitator services, according to the report.

Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, appearing with the chief justice at a press conference, and other lawmakers said the Legislature and governor need to find a balance between current budget obligations — such as paying off debt and financing a so-called Rainy Day Fund — and repairing the judicial branch.

“Let’s not forget the people who depend upon what goes on behind these great structures — our courts,” said Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

The proposal appears to have bipartisan support: Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R- Calexico,  said he was pleased to see the governor restored money in courts. But neither caucus is putting a number on how much they are willing to reinvest.

Apart from the budget issues, the trial courts have been criticized in recent years for high levels of spending on disputed technology. The courts’ administrative structure also has angered a number of  judges around the state who have pushed for greater autonomy.


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