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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

2016 budget plan comes with rise in court funds

By Laura Ernde
Staff Writer

Gov. Jerry Brown continued the state’s cautious reinvestment in California’s court system, offering an additional $146.3 million for the judicial branch in 2016-17.

Brown last month unveiled his statewide spending plan, including $3.8 billion for the judicial branch. In it, he noted that the level of proposed trial court funding is 10.5 percent higher than it was before the recession.

Brown also called for providing $30 million in grants to courts that improve efficiencies and access to justice. Courts have already demonstrated the ability to innovate, with programs such as Fresno County’s video traffic proceedings and San Bernardino County’s automated payment processing, Brown’s budget message said. It cited other examples like the use of self-scheduling and kiosks for traffic proceedings and the use of electronic recordings in family courts. The proposal also calls for:

  • An additional $15.6 million to cover rising costs of providing existing health and retirement benefits.
  • A total of $75 million to make up for the loss of revenue from various fines and penalties.
  • A $21.4 million appropriation to pay for the increased court workload associated with resentencing low-level drug and property crimes prompted by the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014.
  • An additional $7 million for court interpreter services in civil proceedings.
  • A one-time $60 million earmark for deferred maintenance of court buildings.

“The Governor’s proposed budget would help make courts more accessible, efficient, and equitable for court users,” Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye said. “The Judicial Council looks forward to working with the administration and Legislature as we seek to address state budget issues affecting access to justice for the people of California.”

Although Brown’s budget proposal did not contain money for new judgeships, as the Judicial Council has been advocating, it called for working with the Judicial Council to shift vacant judgeships to areas of the state where the need is greatest.

State Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, said he was pleased to see the governor attempt to address “the tremendous need to improve California’s dire judge shortage.” Riverside County has one of the highest caseloads per judicial position in the state, according to a 2015 report.

“This piece of the budget proposal is a small, but critical first step in the right direction,” Roth said.

The Legislature is reviewing the governor’s proposed budget with a June 15 deadline for approval.

Meanwhile, the Commission on the Future of California’s Court System will hold a public comment session Feb. 8 and 9 on efficiency measures such as increasing online access in all types of cases, creating a unified juvenile court to handle both dependency and delinquency cases and ensuring access to court records for all litigants.

Cantil-Sakauye appointed the commission a year ago. The commission held a public comment session on Dec. 8 to solicit input on proposed efficiencies related to judgeships, trial court funding, court-ordered debt and traffic infractions. A second public comment session will be scheduled for later this year.