Courts hit hard in California budget cuts
July 18, 2011
Courthouses throughout California may soon be forced to put up “closed for business” signs as the state grapples with record budget cuts. [Mercury News.com]
The state’s 58 trial courts will be the hard hit as they prepare to absorb $350 million in cuts this fiscal year and an equally harsh reduction projected for next year.
The state Judicial Council, the courts’ policymaking arm, meets Friday to consider recommendations that have judges throughout California alarmed.
“This is unprecedented,” said Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who heads the council. “There is no other way to say it. It is an amount that is startling to us.”
The fiscal crunch will result in longer waits for divorce filings, resolutions in business disputes, as well as delays in courthouse maintenance, and paying lawyers representing the poor.
The Judicial Council is leaving it up to local courts to decide if they want to save money by closing courthouses on occasion, unlike two years ago, when the council provoked an outcry by ordering such closures once a month for every court.
The budget strife has again sparked division within the California judiciary over the council’s approach to dealing with the cuts. The Alliance of California Judges, a group formed in the aftermath of the court closures, is infuriated by the trial courts’ share of the cuts, arguing the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts, the court bureaucracy, should be “cut to the bone” to salvage more money.
In addition, the group insists a controversial multibillion-dollar, statewide technology upgrade, which would overhaul and unify all of the courts’ computer systems, should be scrapped forever.
As of now, the council is considering a plan to save close to $100 million by putting the project on hold for one year, according to reports from court officials. The AOC, under fire in recent years for its rapid growth in tight times, is losing about 12 percent of its $116 million budget this year.