Belt Tightening for California Judges

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye

California’s budget crisis has hit the state judiciary hard.  The cumulative cuts over the last three years have rolled back overall funding by 30 percent, according to Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.  The impact varies from court to court, but one example comes from San Francisco Superior Court, which announced earlier this month it would lay off 200 of its 460 employees to meet its budget limits.

On Friday, the chief justice met with 20 leading lawyers in the San Francisco Bay Area to explore potential solutions to the cumulative cuts.   

“The judicial system in California cannot be sustained at the current levels of funding,” Cantil-Sakauye said.

She looked to the lawyers with multijurisdictional practices to propose potential statewide solutions on dealing with the shortfall in coming years.

“We need to find long-term solutions and we invite your best thinking,” she told the group.  “It’s not something we should approach in a piecemeal fashion.”

The Judicial Council is reviewing recommendations of the Trial Court Budget Working Group to allocate the $350 million budget cut throughout the judiciary.

So far the cuts would pare back 58 county trial courts 6.9% and the Supreme Court by 9.7%, the six state Courts of Appeal and 12% for the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Habeas Corpus Resource Center.

The impact of the cuts will fall most heavily on the civil side of the courts because of the legally and constitutionally mandated deadlines for addressing criminal cases.   

The group did not propose specific solutions in this first session, but the chief justice did set up a working group to begin exploring solutions.  Cantil-Sakauye said she plans a similar meeting with Los Angeles lawyers in the next two weeks.

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