Capitol Alert

More money, bail reform on California chief justice's list

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye will deliver her annual State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature on Monday, March 19, 2018. Bail reform and state court funding have been key topics of concern for the chief justice.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye will deliver her annual State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature on Monday, March 19, 2018. Bail reform and state court funding have been key topics of concern for the chief justice. Sacramento Bee file

California's court system and judges play a big part in the conversation on bail reform.

It's a good bet California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye will bring up the subject when she addresses the Legislature today as part of her annual State of the Judiciary address.

Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed state funding for courts in his 2018-19 budget also figures to get some positive attention from the chief justice.

Overall, Cantil-Sakauye's address will focus "on how to best serve Californians' justice needs (through) fairness, access and ongoing reforms," said Cathal Conneely, public information officer for the Judicial Council of California.

Cantil-Sakauye called for the state to scrap its money bail system last October, following the publication of a report on bail compiled by a working group of California judges. The chief justice put together that group to study complaints that cash bail unfairly penalizes the poor.

The working group's report recommended the state establish a new system based on pretrial assessments of a defendant's flight risk and danger to public safety. The current cash bail system "bases a person's liberty on financial resources rather than the likelihood of future criminal behavior and exacerbates socioeconomic disparities and racial bias," the report concluded.

Legislation to end cash bail in California has been held up by negotiations. But with the support of Cantil-Sakauye and other high-profile individuals, including Brown, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and billionaire activist Tom Steyer, 2018 may just be the year an overhaul occurs.

In terms of state court funding, Cantil-Sakauye thanked Brown in January for his budget proposal, which sets aside $4.2 billion for the judicial branch and includes $150 million in new funding to support trial courts, courthouse construction projects and courtroom initiatives.

Cantil-Sakauye had pushed Brown for more court funding in past annual addresses to the Legislature. The governor's latest proposal seemed to make her happier, as she called it the "most significant year of investment in the judicial branch" in a statement following Brown's budget release.

"With this proposed budget, the courts will be better equipped to truly provide access to justice for all," Cantil-Sakauye said in the statement.

The $150 million in new funding would include $47.8 million for underfunded trial courts, $75 million to enact judicial "priorities" that include expanding technology use and reducing certain misdemeanors to infractions and $19.1 million to expand court services. That includes $4 million for hiring more interpreters to be available in civil matters.

Brown also committed to completing courthouse projects in nine counties through 2020. Those construction projects had been stalled due to funding issues.

Cantil-Sakauye will address the Legislature at 4 p.m. A live stream will be available here.

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BIG FIVE: The Kenneth L. Maddy Institute at California State University, Fresno will host its annual "Big 5 Reception" with Gov. Brown and the Assembly and Senate leaders as part of a private fundraiser tonight at the California Museum in Sacramento. The event raises funds for The Maddy Institute and its legislative intern scholarship program, which provides support for student interns at the Capitol.

Willie Brown, former Assembly speaker and mayor of San Francisco, will be the master of ceremonies at the reception. The Maddy Institute is named after the late state Sen. Ken Maddy.

CELEBRATE: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Los Angeles, who turns 45 today.

Billy Kobin: (916) 321-1860, @Billy_Kobin
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