State's Court Chief Warns Against Budget Cuts
California’s chief justice says cutting judicial funding will lead to “unconscionable delays” in court cases.
Tani Cantil-Sakauye used a Monday afternoon speech to state lawmakers to blast Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget, which redirects $200 million from court construction funds to operational costs.
The chief justice says the judicial branch has lost more than $1 billion the last five budget cycles. “Numbers never tell the true story, but our numbers tell a tale of woe,” Cantil-Sakauye said in her State of the Judiciary address. “Since 2010, 30 courts have reduced their hours of operation to the public. Twenty-two courthouses have closed. One hundred fourteen courtrooms have closed.”
Throughout her 20-minute speech, the chief justice weaved the story of Clarence Gideon, a 50-year-old Florida man who was denied an attorney when he was accused of breaking into a pool hall and stealing cash. As a result of his appeal from his prison cell, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1963 that criminal defendants have a right to legal representation.
"To have your day in court, you need a courtroom," she said. "And I will say that what we once counted on, that courts will be open and ready and available to deliver prompt justice, is no longer true in California."
Cantil-Sakauye said some people in San Bernardino County have to drive two hours to get to court, and she warned of "unconscionable delays" in civil cases dealing with wrongful termination or discrimination, creating a crisis in civil rights.
“I worry that California is on the wrong side of history in funding justice,” she said. “And I believe that if we do not reinvest in justice you will see – or will continue to see -- services to the public from the courts are cut or will be eliminated or deeply restricted.”
Brown administration spokesman H.D. Palmer said the judicial funding cuts need to be view in context, and that every aspect of state government has been cut in recent years. “By the use of drawing down reserves and fees, we've been able to keep the operating budget for the trial court system relatively stable over the course of the recession,” he said.
Cantil-Sakauye countered the redirected money has consequences. Spending less on construction, she argued, “ means courts that need of repair and downright need of replacement remain unsafe.”
Gov. Brown’s budget spends $3.1 billion on the judicial branch.