Early this week the head justice of the state Supreme Court said if lawmakers passed the budget, including the additional $150 million cut to the courts, it would be “devastating and crippling to the judicial branch.” Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye’s fears came to fruition on Wednesday when legislators passed the budget and sent it to the office of Governor Jerry Brown.
“With these cuts courts cannot provide these fundamental services or protect the rights of Califorminans. By marginalizing the courts, California strikes a blow against justice,” she said. “They are the heart of our democracy. These cuts threaten justice for all.”
In March the state delivered cuts of $200 million to the courts. This latest additional $150 million cut is likely to cause some twice-monthly closures in courtrooms across the state.
The San Bernardino Sun reports that while nothing is set in stone yet, the combined $350 million in cuts over the past several months could cut $15.5 million from San Bernardino County courts alone, about 10% of their operating budget.
The state Judicial Council is the final say in how the money is distributed through the trial courts. Because trial courts are a priority, money is often diverted from other special projects to ensure impact is minimal on these criminal and civil courts.
What each county will do to minimize the impact of such dramatic cuts remains to be seen. But officials in San Bernardino County say their main priority is keeping the courthouses open to the people. They say the courts there have been operating at a deficit for the past three years and using reserves to stay afloat.
The courts in San Bernardino County are notoriously frugal with what they have. Though they have the highest per-judge caseload in the state, they manage to stay ahead of the curve. The National Center for State Courts recently studied the county’s courts in an effort to see how other courts in similar predicaments could make things work.
Such dramatic budget cuts to courts can impact many aspects of the criminal justice system. Because it’s early and the cuts were only passed a few days ago, the impact these will have remains to be seen.
Only the government can enforce and secure legal justice for it’s citizens, and as we noted about the court cuts in Sacramento, it is a fundamental failure of our system if these budget problems, serious as they are, compromise the rights that our justice system provides us.