California’s top judge told lawmakers the state court system will need $1.2 billion over the next three years and $266 million more this year to keep courthouses open.
The grim report by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye came Wednesday on the steps of the state capital in Sacramento as she was flanked by judges, lawmakers and businessmen.
The current budget for the judiciary is $3.2 billion to pay for trial courts and appellate courts as well as the central administration of the courts.
Since 2008, when state courts began seeing budget cuts, the judiciary has closed 51 courthouses and reduced public service hours in 30 more courts, according to three-year blueprint for the courts release by Sakauye.
She said the courts need $612 million this year “just to tread water.” The money would go to pay for more judges, eliminate employee unpaid furloughs and update court technology as well as deal with Gov. Jerry Brown’s elimination of the trial courts’ reserve funds. (Brown has said he wants the state to hold the funds in reserve for all courts, rather than have each county responsible for local reserves. This evens out the risks for poor and rich counties.)
The blueprint report states the trial courts need $2.6 billion to be fully functioning. “The current shortfall stands at $875 million, even when the $60 million budget increase is included for the 2013-14 fiscal year. The trial courts receive roughly $1.5 billion in state funding and another $200 million from revenue such as fines and fees.
Although the state legislature authorized 50 new trial court judges in 2007, the positions remain unfunded and unfilled.
The judges also want money to modernize technology and online access for filings, payments and other court services. But a scandal over the courts’ expenditure of $500 million on a failed statewide computer upgrade project has made the use of modernization funds a touchy subject.
Trial court employees cost $96 million. The courts need another $69 million to cover increased health benefit and retirement costs of its employees. Without the money, the courts face reducing or eliminating more services and cutting more staff.
Sakauye called the situation “critical.” She was joined by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg who supports the call for more court funding.