January 4, 2014
Last year, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, and San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi made statements on the importance of adequate funding for the California courts.
Why? Because the California state court system — the largest in the world – is in crisis. In the last five years, the judicial branch has been cut $1 billion and over the same time, General Fund support of the court system has been reduced by almost 65 percent and an additional $1.7 billion has been borrowed or redirected from court construction costs.
The California court system is made up of the Supreme Court with seven justices; six district Courts of Appeal with 105 justices siting in panels; and 58 county Superior Courts with 1,646 judges, 376 commissioners and referees. As of November 2013, there were 8 appellate court and 85 superior court vacancies.
The financial crisis has meant that 39 court houses have been closed, another 77 courtrooms in still-open courthouses have been closed, 30 courts now have reduced hours, and 37 courts have been forced to reduce self-help and family law facilitators. In short, the court system has been forced to balance its budget on the backs of the most vulnerable members of society by closing or reducing special court programs that deal with juvenile dependency, indigent defendants, drug addiction, veterans, and victims of domestic violence.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has said that it will take an additional $1 billion over the next three to five years to ensure that the courts are open and accessible to all citizens.
California is expected to receive billions of dollars in extra tax revenues. But will the court system receive enough of these tax dollars to start restoring access to justice?
An independent judiciary is one of the foundations of our democratic society. The judiciary is supposed to be a co-equal branch of government. But because the judiciary receives its funding from the state legislature, the judiciary is often at the mercy of the the annual budget. This places the judiciary in the position of being less than co-equal with the executive and legislative branches.
Californians do not deserve rationed justice. It is time for the legislative and executive branches to infuse more money into the judiciary.