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California chief justice seeks more court money
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SACRAMENTO (AP) — California’s court system needs more money if it is going to recover from years of budget cuts that have forced courthouses to close and court employees to take unpaid days off, the state’s chief justice said Monday.

“We have a lot of catching up to do and, we want to be a partner in fair and collaborative solutions, just like we were a partner in the last five years in reductions ...,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye told a joint session of the Legislature.

It was her third annual “state of the judiciary” speech to lawmakers. She has been seeking to restore the courts’ funding since she was sworn in more than three years ago by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

During the downturn, some trial courts cut their hours, closed courtrooms and furloughed or laid off employees. She said court closures mean more than two million Californians can no longer easily reach a local courthouse. Her office says 51 courthouses and 205 courtrooms have been closed, while 30 have reduced service hours.

“A one-way, three-hour trip to a courthouse can’t be fair in anyone’s book,” she said. “We face astonishing and harmful delays in urgent family matters, in business contracts, in wrongful termination, discrimination cases, personal injury cases, across the board.”

Kings County still is furloughing court employees 21 days each year, she said, while the Supreme Court, courts of appeal and Administrative Office of the Courts are using furloughs to cut costs.

Trial court funding peaked at $3.3 billion in the 2007-08 fiscal year before the recession devastated California’s budgets, according to the state Department of Finance.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is proposing a $100 million increase for the courts for the fiscal year that begins July 1, which would boost the system’s budget to $2.5 billion.

But several one-time funding sources were used to help fund the courts during the state’s budget crisis, including increasing fees, shifting special funds and drawing down trial court reserves.