Governor Likes Budget the Way It Is, Chief Justice Not so Much

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 16, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Gov. Jerry Brown has released a revised California budget, and it does not include new money for the courts. State Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye is not impressed.

"Under this proposed budget, trial courts receive a little more than a penny for every general-fund tax dollar, less than what the courts were receiving before the Great Recession," she said in a statement. "This is neither fair nor just."

In his initial budget, the governor added $35.4 million to support the state trial courts. The judiciary's proposed budget was about $3.6 billion, and the revised budget keeps it the same.

Same Budget

State Department of Finance Director Jay Cohen said the governor wants to keep the judiciary's budget at its current level.

"It's basically the same budget we saw in January," he said. "We've maintained the status quo for the May revision. There are no cuts proposed for the court system as there are in other areas."

Cantil-Sakauye, however, said the courts cannot fulfill their mandate of providing justice without money. She said as much in her State of the Judiciary speech in March.

"We cannot provide the justice that Californians deserve without adequate and stable funding. Inadequate funding and chronic under-funding of the courts is just one way a justice system can become unjust," she said. "To be sure, a justice system and our checks and balances can fail in the face of fear and prejudice. But they can also fail with lack of funding."

Trial Courts' Contempt

After Brown released his initial budget in January, superior court officers from 49 of the state's 58 counties sent a letter to the governor about their concerns. According to reports, they said the courts need a 6 percent increase to stay in business.

"First the state slashed trial court budgets; now our local revenues are falling" because of the fine collection-related changes brought about by AB 2839, said Stephen Nash, court executive officer of the Superior Court of Contra Costa County. "And once again the governor proposes no funding for local court employee cost increases."

Chad Finke, executive officer for the Alameda County Superior Court, said his court lost about 30 percent of its workers in recent years. As a result, he said, people are not receiving satisfactory service.

"I get complaints every day about how long people have to stand in line, or how long they have to wait on the phone," Finke told the East Bay Times. "Without that additional money, that's only going to get worse."

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