Calif. council doles out court budget cuts

Jessica M. Karmasek Jul. 26, 2011, 9:51am


SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) - At a public meeting Friday, the Judicial Council of California allocated a $350 million reduction in the state judicial branch's budget for fiscal year 2011-2012.

Approved by the state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown, the state's former attorney general, the budget cut is considered the largest in state court history and is expected to have a dramatic impact on judicial branch services for the public.

The judicial council is the policymaking body of the California courts. The council is responsible for ensuring the consistent, independent, impartial and accessible administration of justice.

Acting on the recommendation of court leaders across the state, the council approved a budget plan that would result in a 6.8 percent cut in funding for the 58 California trial courts, a 9.7 percent cut in funding for the state Supreme Court and the six Courts of Appeal, and a 12 percent funding reduction for the council itself and its staff organization, the Administrative Office of the Courts.

The funding recommendations were made by the Trial Court Budget Working Group in consultation with appellate court representatives. The working group is made up of 15 representative presiding judges and 15 court administrators from state trial courts.

According to the council, it approved $122.4 million in offsets to lessen the impact of budget reductions on the trial courts. This includes a transfer of $56.4 million from the California Court Case Management System, which will result in a one-year delay in deployment activities for that program, it said.

Other offsets include more than $60 million from court construction funds and $3 million savings in the court interpreter program in fiscal year 2009-2010.

In other budget actions, the council:

- Allocated to trial courts $52.5 million that was appropriated in the Budget Act of 2011 for the full-year impact of fiscal-year 2010-2011 cost changes in employee health benefits, retirement and retiree health, based on a straight pro-rata basis;

- Reduced trial court base budgets to reflect that court security funding is now being transferred to counties as part of the new statewide court security alignment; and

- Approved recommendations made by the Trial Court Budget Working Group on fiscal year 2011-2012 allocations from three funds that support projects and programs for the trial courts: the Trial Court Improvement Fund, the Judicial Administration Efficiency and Modernization Fund, and the Trial Court Trust Fund. Many programs were scaled back as a result of budget reductions, including educational and access to justice programs.

Since 2008, the state has reduced funding for the court system by $652 million.

Judicial branch leaders, led by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, have argued vigorously against additional deep cuts to the branch, warning it could mean fewer services for the public, individual court closures or reductions in operating hours, and the possibility of more furloughs and layoffs for court employees.

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