Monday, December 16, 2002
Chief Justice Draws the Line on Court Budget Cuts
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Chief Justice Ronald George, who in recent days said the courts must do their part to cut costs in the midst of a state budget crisis, made clear Friday that he would not permit cuts so deep as to jeopardize the courts’ constitutional duties.
“As we consider how to reduce our budgetó-and we shall reduce the courts’ budgetsówe must fulfill the public’s trust to protect the values of our American justice system, which make our system of government so unique,” George told the Judicial Council at its San Francisco meeting.
“In making appropriate, responsible decisions, this council and all decision-makers must guard against the temptation to make swift, across-the-board decisions that may have unintended consequences of loss far greater than this financial crisis,” he said.
On Dec. 6, Gov. Gray Davis proposed cutting $10.2 billion from the current budget, including $10 million in unallocated reductions from judicial branch operations and $50 million from the state’s funding for the trial courts. He said his fiscal year 2003-04 budget will propose additional cuts of $29 million from judiciary operations and $200 million from the trial court budget.
George last week suggested several measures sure to draw stiff resistance, including replacing deputy sheriffs who provide courthouse security with private guards and instituting more electronic transcription in lieu of traditional court reporting.
In his remarks to the Judicial Council, the body responsible for policy decisions of the state’s judicial branch, George noted that the courts stepped up last year to reduce budget requests by $213 million and absorbed a budget reduction of $37.6 million for the trial and appellate courts and the Administrative Office of the Courts.
This year, the courts cut $154 million, leading to the closure of courtrooms in the Los Angeles Superior Court, the layoff of dozens of court employees and the loss of several judicial officers.
George on Friday reiterated his intention to look for ways to cut costs, but said there were limits.
“We may have pushed the limits of what is possible when one considers the regrettable partial closure of some courts, and the delay of vital reforms,” George said.
But he again brought up the possibility of changes in court reporting and security.
“While we need to carefully consider whether we can make the same level of reductions next year, we can make additional reductions if we have the strength of will to re-examine how we conduct our business in many areas (such as security, traffic administration, maintaining the record of court proceedings, etc.).”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company