Chief justice: 'We've become slower, thinner, smaller'
California's judicial branch weathered a cut of $350 million this year from its operations budget on top of a continuing annual $300 million cut imposed over the last several years. The state also diverted $310 million from a special fund for courthouse construction. When several trial courts threatened to shut their doors for lack of funding, the Judicial Council -- the authority that leads the three levels of California courts -- bailed them out with $300 million from its own administrative budget.
In his proposed 2012-13 budget unveiled last week, Gov. Jerry Brown is seeking no further immediate cuts to the courts. But if expected revenue fails to materialize, the courts will face automatic "trigger" cuts.
The day after the budget release, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye visited with the Times editorial board and discussed a range of topics, including funding. Click below to listen to audio excerpts, or read partial transcripts of the discussion.
I’m grateful that our discussions with the governor’s office and the governor about the four-year cumulative hit to the branch resulted in the no-cuts, no-impact in the fiscal year budget for the branch unless there’s a trigger....
I feel it’s the first step in a journey that we still have to go because since 08-09 the judicial branch has sustained approximately $653 million in cuts.
As you know fiscal year 11-12 the one we’re in we took a $350 million cut but that was on top of a $300 million ongoing cut so it’s $650 million. And over four years we’ve become slower, thinner, smaller, and that’s not how justice is meant to be served anywhere, period....
We still need restoration. And what we’ve tried to do is be realistic….
But 11-12 is the threshold year where we’re running out of those options. You know it’s a fourth- year diet. And we’re done. We don’t have any more reserves, or very few reserves to move around….
We’re not a union shop [at the Judicial Council] so we don’t have contracts. Our employees are sticking with us in hopes for a better day. And we realize we cannot sustain in this fashion….
We’re seeing in human impact stories that that’s where we’re being hit hardest, where courts have limited time, hours are limited, people aren’t getting in to get ex parte orders so they’re sleeping in their cars. Their kids get taken out of state because they weren’t able to get that order filed. Or because they couldn’t get their child support order modified. It was made at a time when he earned $60,000. Now he earns much less than that. He has to pay child support which is over half of his salary. He can’t get into court to get that modified. So in the meantime all he’s paying is child support and loses his apartment.
We’ve seen that we’ve tried efficiencies, but we’re a little bit beyond efficiencies and we’re now into reductions and trimming the edges in order to make ends meet. But we are still looking for those efficiencies. Some of those efficiencies will have to be statutory.
"Worst possible option"
"Life without means life without"
Profile: Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye
Photo: California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye speaks with the Los Angeles Times editorial board on Jan. 6. At left is Ronald G. Overholt, interim administrative director of the courts. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times