Capitol Alert

California chief justice seeks more court funding

Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, in her Sacramento office on Monday, December 09 2013.
Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, in her Sacramento office on Monday, December 09 2013.

Marking an annual budget clash between California’s courts and the other two branches of government, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye used her State of the Judiciary speech on Monday to once again urge Sacramento to augment funding for the judiciary.

As California sought to dig itself out of a deep fiscal hole during the recession, the court system was one recipient of wide-ranging budget cuts. While Cantil-Sakauye acknowledged that the level of state funding for the judiciary has begun to rise – Gov. Jerry Brown this year proposed an additional $90.1 million for trial court operations and $42.7 million more for employee benefits – Cantil-Sakauye said citizens continue to face reduced access.

“It’s not enough. We fall short,” Cantil-Sakauye said, with consequences that include “courthouse closures, reduced hours, and employees who are still, yes, on furlough.”

Part of the judiciary’s response has been to seek more money, Cantil-Sakauye said, but she also pointed to new initiatives.

Two months after California’s state auditor concluded that court administrators had squandered money by failing to budget wisely, Cantil-Sakauye touted initiatives to cut down on excess staff, find a more even way to fund trial courts and deploy technology to help educate staff and aid litigants in pursuing their cases. She called a new open meetings rule “one of the most expansive for any judiciary in the United States” and pointed to broader foreign language assistance.

Alternative justice models have also borne fruit, Cantil-Sakauye said, pointing to “collaborative courts” that blend rehabilitation programs with judicial oversight to find alternatives to incarceration for groups like veterans and drug users.

She cast such projects as examples of both creativity and financial necessity.

“After having the judicial branch suffer over a billion dollars in cuts over five years, we understand the need to innovate and accelerate, and find efficiencies and innovations has to move faster,” Cantil-Sakauye said.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.