Budget restores modest sum to California courts
By Amy Yarbrough
After years of devastating budget cuts, California courts
will receive an additional $63 million this year. But it won’t be enough to
prevent continued courthouse closures throughout the state.
The spending plan finalized by the Legislature and signed by
Gov. Jerry Brown last month calls for an additional $60 million allocation for
the trial courts and $3 million for the Supreme Court, appellate courts and Habeas Corpus
In a June 27 statement, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye called
the budget plan “the first step in the long road to restoring funding to our
judicial system.” But she also warned that the funds are just a Band-Aid for
courts left decimated by years of cuts.
“Although the extra $63 million for the branch in this
year’s budget allows us to start rebuilding, it may not be enough to reopen
courts that have closed,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “It may not be enough to bring
back court employees who have been laid off or to stop ongoing furloughs for
many court employees. And it absolutely won’t be enough to provide the kind of
access to justice the public deserves.
“We need fuller restoration to the branch budget so we can
adequately serve the public. We need to keep our courts open. We need safe and
secure courthouses. And we need more judges in areas of the state that have
been underserved for years.”
In the last five years, the judicial branch’s budget has
been chopped by roughly $1 billion, leading to courthouse closures, reduced
clerk hours and worker layoffs. In her state of the judiciary address delivered
to the Legislature in March, Cantil-Sakauye noted that since 2010, 30 courts
had reduced their hours of operation, 22 courthouses had closed and 114
courtrooms had shut their doors.
Even with the prospect of an additional $60 million
allocation going to the trial courts, Los Angeles County Superior Court moved
ahead with plans – made prior to the state budget being finalized – to
eliminate 511 budgeted positions. The move required 177 employee layoffs.
a statement released in conjunction with the June 14 layoffs, court officials
noted that they were now managing a $195 million structural budget deficit. To
help compensate for lost staff positions, they put in place a consolidation
plan which included the closure of eight courthouses, large reductions in
services at two others and the elimination of the remaining part-time court
reporters in civil courts, as well as all full-time referees in the juvenile
“We have reached the new normal,” Presiding Judge David S. Wesley
said in a prepared statement. “And there is nothing to like about it.”
State Bar President Patrick Kelly said although the
situation is not ideal, the additional funding indicates a positive turning point
for the judicial branch.
“Although $63 million falls short of what is required to
restore complete access to justice in this state, it is a show of good faith by
the governor and the Legislature,” Kelly said. “It is the first time in many
years the Legislature and the governor have allocated to the courts an increase
in the amount of court funding.
“While not adequate to handle the needs of our court system,
it is certainly a step in the right direction,” he added. “This realization
represents a significant change that will help the cause of access to justice
in the future.”