(Bay City News) California Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye said today that Gov. Brown's planned additional cuts of $544 million in state court funding in the next fiscal year "are both devastating and disheartening.""They will seriously compromise the public's access to their courts and our ability to provide equal access to justice throughout the state," Cantil-Sakauye said in a statement issued in San Francisco.
Jon Streeter, a San Francisco lawyer who is president of the California State Bar, called the cuts "unsustainable."
"All courts are going to feel the pain, even those that have managed well so far," Streeter said.
The judicial branch cuts are among $4.1 billion in new budget reductions announced by Gov. Jerry Brown today to achieve a revised $91 billion state budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Brown also said that if voters fail to pass a November ballot measure temporarily increasing income taxes for wealthy Californians and the state sales tax, he will have to cut $6 billion more.
The revised budget modifies one issued in January. It was made necessary by lower-than-expected state revenue, an increase in education funding required by a voter initiative and court rulings blocking previous cuts in social services, Brown said.
The budget allocation for the state court system in 2012-13, with the $544 million taken out, is now $3.6 billion, according to state Department of Finance figures.
The funding covers the 58 county superior court trial courts, state appeals courts, the California Supreme Court and the statewide Administrative Office of the Courts.
The reduction will be reached primarily by requiring trial courts to use $300 million of reserve funds and delaying $240 million worth of courthouse construction and renovation, Brown said.
Another $4 million savings will be achieved by requiring court employees to contribute more to pension funds.
Cantil-Sakauye said she has called a special meeting of the state Judicial Council in Sacramento Thursday to discuss the impact of the cuts.
The council is the governing body of the California court system and is chaired by the state's chief justice.
Over the past four fiscal years, the state courts have sustained a cumulative ongoing budget reduction of $653 million, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts. The previous cuts have resulted in layoffs of court staff, shorter clerk's office hours and closure of some courtrooms.
Last July, This Week in Northern California's Belva Davis spoke to San Francisco Superior Court Judge Katherine Feinstein about the effects of the fiscal crisis on courts she supervises. The worst of the cuts was eventually avoided, but the interview provides a good picture of what court officials say are the practical implications of drastic budget cuts...