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California chief justice warns of 'dangerous delays' in court system due to budget cuts

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POSTED March 19, 2012 8:34 p.m.


 

SACRAMENTO  (AP) — California's chief justice warned Monday that hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts to the state court system at a time of rising need have led to potentially dangerous delays in the administration of justice.

In her first address to a joint session of the Legislature, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said the state's judicial branch, which includes 58 trial courts, six appellate courts and the state Supreme Court, has seen its budget cut by nearly a quarter since 2008.

More than $650 million in spending cuts have led to closed courtrooms and clerk's offices in 24 counties, staff layoffs and reduced hours.

"We are already seeing worrisome and potentially dangerous delays in the resolution of cases," Cantil-Sakauye said in prepared remarks released before her speech.

While she did not explicitly argue for greater funding, the justice said Superior Court filings this year topped 10 million for the second consecutive year, an increase of 20 percent over the previous decade.

In what she termed a "cruel irony," Cantil-Sakauye said the same economic forces that have led to cuts at nearly all levels of state government are the same ones helping drive an increase in court activity, including cases for evictions, debt collections and child support modifications.

The cutbacks have compounded problems in the courts, which she said already needed to add judicial positions in some fast-growing areas of the state such as the Central Valley.

She gave the example of a woman in a rural county who could not receive a restraining order when she sought it because the county court had reduced its hours of operation. She spent the night with her child in a car rather than returning home to a boyfriend she said physically and sexually abused her.

"To honor and respect the laws signed by the governor, the judicial branch must be funded adequately and consistently," Cantil-Sakauye said in her prepared statement for the State of the Judiciary address. "The promise of equal justice in California should not be illusory."

She delivered her first address to the Legislature at time when her relationships with some trial judges and lawmakers have been strained by the budget cuts and a power struggle over the office that oversees court administration.

She was appointed a little more than a year ago by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, but put off what would have been her first address to the Legislature last year amid tense budget negotiations between Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers.

 

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