Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Court Funding Cuts Threaten Public Safety, Chief Justice Warns
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Cuts in court funding contemplated in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed state budget would threaten public safety and impede California’s economic recovery, Chief Justice Ronald M. George planned to tell state legislators last night.
In remarks prepared for delivery to a joint evening session of the Legislature, George said reductions in court budgets have already “adversely affected the lives of many Californians and threaten to render the administration of justice uneven and inadequate across our state.”
The chief justice planned to call on lawmakers to “provide us with the resources essential to carry out our constitutional responsibilities, just as our sister branches continue to fulfill theirs.”
This year marks the ninth in a row that the chief justice has delivered a “State of the Judiciary” address to the Legislature. Advance copies of his remarks were made available by the Administrative Office of the Courts.
In the remarks, George highlighted a number of recent court system accomplishments, but also cited several areas in which he said the “strain on our judicial system caused by inadequate resources already has begun to adversely affect public safety, families, and self-represented litigants, as well as the stable court environment needed to create confidence in the business sector.”
•The Los Angeles Superior Court, where 29 courtrooms have been shut down and a “Flexible Fridays” program under which court employees are encouraged to take one Friday a month off without pay has saved money but has limited court productivity on Fridays and created a scheduling headache for managers attempting to provide coverage for the absent workers.
•The Solano Superior Court, where the Vallejo and Fairfield branches have a backlog of about 7,600 felony and misdemeanor cases, dating back to the first half of 2003, which have not been entered into the case management system so they can be reported to the state Department of Justice and Department of Motor Vehicles.
•Monterey County, where delays of four to six months in processing requests by the District Attorney’s Office for copies of prior-conviction records needed for making charging decisions are not uncommon.
•The Stanislaus Superior Court, which has had to reduce its armed security force by three full-time deputies at a time when trials for violent crimes are increasing.
•Riverside County, where budget cuts have doubled the time required to obtain a family law mediation appointment from 45 to 90 days, leading to complaints which now take up nearly a quarter of the time of an already overburdened mediation supervisor.
•Santa Cruz, where night traffic court is being cancelled.
•The Ventura Superior Court, where the cost of fuel, maintenance and staffing has forced cutbacks in community outreach services using a Self-Help Legal Access Center based in a mobile van.
George pointed out in his prepared remarks that in Riverside County there is already a three- to six-month wait to enter a drug court treatment program. Since officials there estimate about 80 percent of juvenile law matters involve a parent who abuses drugs or alcohol, that delay makes family reunification difficult.
“Children who cannot be reunited with substance-abusing parents must be placed in care outside the home—costing approximately $5,300 a month,” George explained. “That same sum of money would support a parent’s participation for an entire year in drug court and related treatment programs. I cannot emphasize too strongly how firmly I believe that further cuts to our courts will not achieve net savings—instead, they will increase the overall costs for our society.”
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company