Gov. Jerry Brown plans to slash another $200 million from California courts to help balance his January budget, possibly resulting in a "disastrous impact" for the legal system, court officials warned Wednesday.
Judge Steven Jahr, state administrative director of the courts, said in a memo that Brown's budget writers are proposing $200 million less for courts than promised for the next fiscal year, asking the system to draw further from reserves to make ends meet.
The court system already absorbed a $500 million cut in the current fiscal year, resulting in service reductions and delayed construction.
The memo was provided Wednesday by the Consumer Attorneys of California. The group's president, Brian Kabateck, warned that civil court services are at greatest risk.
"Average Californians are going to be lacking in court services they need," Kabateck said. "Anything from civil jury trials to domestic violence services to small claims are going to suffer. They're going to chop the easiest civil things they can first because they need to provide constitutionally protected services like criminal court."
Brown's Department of Finance spokesman, H.D. Palmer, said any presumptions about the governor's budget were "premature" at this stage. The governor will present his 2013-14 plan to the Legislature in early January.
"The budget decisions are not final," Palmer said.
The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that California will face a $1.9 billion deficit through June 2014 and surpluses thereafter. Though a gap remains in the upcoming year, it is significantly smaller than any year since the recession thanks to a recovering economy and voter-approved tax hikes.
The LAO estimated that courts would receive about $1.2 billion in the next budget, including a restoration of $419 million that was cut in the last spending plan. But Jahr said the restoration would be only $218 million based on his conversations with Department of Finance officials, including Director Ana Matosantos.
California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye plans to meet with Brown on Wednesday, according to Jahr's memo, "to communicate the dire consequences of this potential action and the need to reaffirm the commitment of our sister branches for the two-year spend down of reserves."