Monday, August 15, 2011
Chief Justice Set to Meet with Attorneys to Discuss Budget Crisis
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye on Friday said she plans to meet with attorneys in Los Angeles before the end of this month to discuss the effect of cuts made by the Legislature to the branch’s budget, and possible solutions for coping with this loss of funding.
She had a similar 90-minute meeting with 20 lawyers from San Francisco on Thursday, a branch spokesperson said.
A date has not yet been set for the Los Angeles meeting, and the individuals who will be invited to participate have not yet been selected, although they are likely to be representatives from bar associations in the southern part of the state, the spokesperson said.
The chief justice told members of the plaintiffs and defense bar, as well as leaders of the State Bar of California and the Bar Association of San Francisco, at Thursday’s meeting that “[t]he judicial system in California cannot be sustained at the current levels of funding,” according to a release from the Judicial Council.
Cantil-Sakauye acknowledged that the San Francisco Superior Court, and others, “are in crisis,” and asked the individuals at the meeting for their assistance in finding “long-term solutions.”
She added that “whatever solution we come up” should be applicable statewide, since a workable plan is “not something we should approach in a piecemeal fashion.”
“We are in this together,” the release quoted her as saying.
This fiscal year, the Legislature cut the judiciary’s budget by $350 million. At an emergency session last month the Judicial Council voted to allocate this loss by reducing funding for the state’s 58 trial courts by 6.9 percent, for the appellate courts by 9.7 percent, and for the council and its administrative arm by 12 percent.
The San Francisco Superior Court, in order to cope with the cut to its funding, has given lay-off notices to 40 percent of its employees, including all but one of its commissioners, and announced plans to close 25 courtrooms, including both of its Complex Litigation Departments.
At Thursday’s meeting, a number of attorneys expressed concern about San Francisco’s proposal and said they would be willing to pay a “usage fee” to keep the Complex Litigation courts open.
Other attorneys said solutions should focus on statewide, structural problems.
The formation of working group for examining solutions is planned for after the meeting in Los Angeles, the spokesperson said.
The Alliance of California Judges on Friday issued a statement contending the branch’s woes are due to the Judicial Council’s decision “to fund a bloated and overpaid central bureaucracy, extravagant court construction, and a troubled computer project that has already cost $600 million and is projected to cost $1.9 billion,” rather than trial court operations.
“The solution is not to create new committees,” the group argued, but “to directly fund the trial courts,” which was the “core principle of AB 1208.”
This measure by Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Industry, proposed increasing the trial courts’ authority over their administration and funding and was backed by the alliance. It was placed on a two-year track in June.
Had the measure passed into law, it “would have prevented much of the drastic consequences that many courts are immediately facing,” the alliance said.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company