By Allen Payton
In a strongly worded letter, judges from 49 of the 58 superior courts in California, including Contra Costa County, informed Governor Jerry Brown last week, of their displeasure with the amount of funding for the state’s judicial branch in his proposed budget. They believe the lack of an increase in their budget will have an impact on the communities they serve and are asking for an increase of $158.5 million to the $3.6 billion Brown has proposed in his budget. Courts Letter to Gov Brown 02-16-17
Each of the 58 counties in the state have a trial court, known as a superior court. The judges added their efforts to those by California “Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye and the Judicial Council of California…and support their efforts to seek additional funding for the judicial branch.”
Brown’s proposed budget projects a $1.6 billion deficit. According to an L.A. Times article, Brown told reporters at the state Capitol…as he unveiled the state’s budget, that “The trajectory of revenue growth is declining.” As a result his “$179.5-billion plan seeks to resolve the budget shortfall by slower-than-expected growth in public school funding and through rolling back a series of one-time expenses discussed during last year’s budget negotiations.”
All the members of the State Senate and Assembly were copied on the letter from the judges, which states: “We, the undersigned courts, have had the opportunity to review your proposed budget for the judicial branch for Fiscal Year 2017-18. We are seriously concerned with the lack of additional funding proposed for trial court operations and our ability to provide adequate access to justice for those in need of California’s court system,” and “…we wish to inform you and the Legislature about the impact this proposed budget will have not only on the many trial courts throughout the state but, more importantly, on the communities that we serve.”
According to Brown’s budget summary, “the Budget includes total funding of $3.6 billion ($1.7 billion General Fund and $1.9 billion other funds) for the Judicial Branch, of which $2.8 billion is provided to support trial court operations.” That is $200 million less than the $3.8 billion Brown proposed in his budget and $100 million less than was approved for the current fiscal year, which was an increase of $300 million over the previous fiscal year.
The letter cites increases in costs and changes in laws will mean Brown’s budget will have the effect of a “net decrease” to the budget for the superior courts.
“This is due to, among other things, the rising cost of doing business in California (e.g., utility costs, rents, vendor expenses, employee salaries). It also results from governmental actions such as elimination of Proposition 47 funding, additional workload from voter-approved initiatives such as Propositions 57 and 64, legislative changes such as AB 2839 that considerably increase workload without accompanying offsetting funding,” the letter stated.
“The proposed elimination of a court’s ability to place a hold on a traffic defendant’s driver’s license for failure to pay or appear, the latter of which appears to have the unintended consequence of reducing revenues to the trial courts, counties and the state. In Solano and Contra Costa, two courts that have imposed a moratorium on driver’s license holds, both courts have seen an approximate 25% reduction in collections.”
The letter concludes with the requested increase in the proposed state budget for the superior courts.
“We respectfully request that the trial courts be treated in an equitable fashion with the Executive Branch and that the trial courts be funded with a modest annual increase. An increase of $158.5 million—which is the amount requested by the Judicial Council to address baseline cost increases, but which was not included in the Governor’s Budget for next fiscal year—would allow us to keep pace with rising costs of doing business in California and, more importantly, allow courts to preserve the public’s access to justice.”
The budget is expected to be approved by the state legislature and sent to Brown for his signature by the end of June.