SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) - The California Supreme Court issued more opinions from Sept. 1, 2011 through Aug. 31 of this year, despite a reduction to the judicial branch's budget and continuing staff furloughs.
On Thursday, the state's high court released its annual report on workload statistics.
The Court releases these statistics following the usual interval in July and August during which it does not regularly calendar oral argument.
These figures, it noted, are not the same as those released as part of the statistics report for the entire branch, which are based on the fiscal year.
During the months in which no oral argument is held, the Court continues to issue opinions in matters argued at its oral argument sessions in April, May and June, and to hold its regular weekly conferences at which it decides which cases to grant for review.
OPINIONS AND PETITIONS
Overall, the number of opinions issued by the Court increased from 86 last court year to 97 in 2011-12.
Of those 97 cases, 27 involved civil matters, 43 were noncapital criminal cases and 27 resolved automatic appeals arising from judgments of death.
According to the Court, the number of opinions in civil cases decreased by eight.
Meanwhile, during the same period, the total number of petitions for review and filings in original proceedings decreased.
The Court's staff prepares internal memoranda concerning each petition for review and original matter, except various uncontested State Bar Court proceedings, and the justices consider these requests and the related internal memoranda at weekly conferences held throughout the year.
It is common for the Court to review and act upon more than 250 petitions at a weekly conference, the report noted.
The process of deciding which matters are appropriate for review leading to a written opinion constitutes a significant part of the Court's workload.
In 2011-12, total filings decreased to 8,977 from 10,144 in 2010-11.
That's the lowest number in several years, according to the Court.
Filings of petitions for review also declined, from 4,910 in 2010-11 to 4,570 in 2011-12.
Of those petitions for review, civil petitions decreased from 1,229 to 1,173. Criminal petitions also dropped, from 3,681 to 3,395.
Total filings in original proceedings also fell -- by 327 from 3,779 in 2010-11 to 3,452 in 2011-12.
The number of dispositions also decreased, according to the annual report.
In the 2011-12 court year, the Court disposed of 9,715 petitions for review, petitions in original proceedings and actions arising out of State Bar Court disciplinary proceedings.
That amounts to 839 fewer matters than were disposed of in the 2010-11 court year.
In particular, disposition of petitions for review decreased by 476, from 5,039 to 4,563.
The number of dispositions in original proceedings increased, however, by more than 100, from 4,041 in 2010-11 to 4,147 in 2011-12.
A large decrease also occurred in attorney discipline dispositions, which fell from 1,417 in 2010-11 to 950 in 2011-12.
According to the Court, that drop reflects changes in State Bar procedures that created a spike in the filings in the earlier period.
REASONS BEHIND THE NUMBERS
The Court noted that changes to its makeup likely contributed to the figures reported.
For instance, this was the first full court year for Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
Associate Justice Goodwin Liu also joined the Court on Aug. 31, 2011, sitting for his first oral argument calendar just six days later.
Liu filled a vacancy that had been created by the retirement of Justice Carlos Moreno at the end of February 2011. Court of Appeal justices served on assignment to fill Moreno's seat for the cases heard during the balance of the 2010-11 court year.
The presence of a new permanent justice is reflected in the increase in the number of opinions filed, the Court explained in its report.
The Court also explained that the continuing impact of staff furloughs in the Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeal, and substantial budget reductions throughout the branch also may be affecting the flow of cases through the system.
Staff at the Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal are in their fourth year of one day of furlough each month, the Court noted in its report.
The judicial branch's budget, which represents nearly 3 percent of California's budget, has seen reductions of nearly 30 percent since 2008.
The court system is currently facing a $350 billion budget reduction.
The cut, passed by the Legislature and approved by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, is the deepest reduction in state court history.
In April, Cantil-Sakauye and others spoke to state lawmakers about the effect of the budget cuts to the public's access to justice.
"We in the judicial branch accept our responsibility to help address the state's ongoing fiscal crisis," Cantil-Sakauye told a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, Subcommittee No. 5 on Corrections, Public Safety and the Judiciary.
"But we also are mindful of our duty to ensure that 38 million Californians are assured their rights under our constitution, that businesses and residents are provided lawful means to settle disputes, and that those accused of crimes are prosecuted fairly and expeditiously."
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.