CA Courts: A Judicial Funding Crisis

There are many aspects to the legal reform fight in this state and country. A lot of times people just think it is about the trial lawyers and the vast sums of money they walk away with under the guise of helping victims. Or the Legislature and the millions of dollars they have taken from trial attorneys while refusing to pass legitimate legal reform.

However, one of the most critical elements is the courts. I won’t discuss who appoints judges and how much they receive from trial lawyers. I will save that for another day, because that is a huge issue. One of the most fundamental elements to our criminal justice system is a properly-funded court system. If you are not aware, our courts are in financial ruin and grossly underfunded.

During the 2011 budgeting process our courts were cut by $350 million dollars even after they had absorbed grievous cuts in previous years. This has brought serious ramifications to our judicial system. California Supreme Court Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye stated, “It’s critical that we adequately fund our courts, because they exist to serve the public. The work that legislators do, and bring to the Governor to sign into law, is meaningless if there is no forum to enforce it.”

Before I describe a few examples of how bad it is, let me first state that every year in California there are more than 1 million civil lawsuits filed in our courts, and criminal cases take a priority over civil lawsuits. So with that being said (and keeping in mind how long it already takes for lawsuits to move through the system), here is how bad it is going to get:

San Francisco is looking at laying off 200 of its 480 employees, shuttering 25 of its 63 courtrooms and closing some civil trial departments. San Joaquin County has halted hearing small claims cases. Los Angeles County is looking at a three-year plan of eliminating 1,800 jobs and closing 180 courtrooms (the equivalent of nearly 9 court houses). Nearly all other court jurisdictions in this state are closing early. It is not a pretty picture.

This amounts to one word: crisis. This is a crisis for the judicial system and a crisis for you and me. A few years ago, our courts were already clogged with lawsuits. Now, with our court system forced to make significant cuts, every abusive lawsuit filed in California clogs the system even more, and delays justice even longer for those with legitimate lawsuits. And it will only get worse if our Legislature continues to pass laws encouraging more bad lawsuits.

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