Wednesday, March 13, 2002
George Warns Legislature Courts Will Be Needing More Money
By DAVID KLINE
SACRAMENTO (CAPITOL)—The judicial branch has responded to California’s budget crunch by withdrawing major spending requests, but without some new state funding in the next few years the courts won’t be able to fulfill their responsibilities to the public, Chief Justice Ronald George warned lawmakers yesterday.
“Far from being temples of justice, many of the courthouses in our state pose dangers to those who come to them for justice,” George said in his annual State of the Judiciary evening address to a joint session of the state Senate and Assembly. “Security is inadequate, sometimes making a court appearance a hazardous experience for litigants and witnesses.”
George acknowledged that a downturn in the state’s economy and the extra security costs encountered since Sept. 11 have put new stress on the state budget, and said “the judiciary will fully meet its responsibilities within our existing resources and will not be seeking funds for new programs or major program expansions.”
Still, the chief justice urged the lawmakers who control the judiciary’s purse strings to remember the needs of the courts in the future.
“What message is conveyed about the value we place on justice when the structures in which it is rendered lack basic amenities?” George asked. “Our judicial system does not need, want or expect palaces, but it does deserve facilities that are secure, well-maintained and adequate to serve the public’s needs.”
The chief justice said he will continue pushing for a process to gradually transfer ownership of California’s 451 courthouses from counties to the state. Currently, counties are responsible for structures authorized prior to 1998, and the state is responsible for more recent buildings.
“This split in responsibilities guarantees that future needs will remain unmet unless a change occurs,” he said.
George said the judiciary’s goal “is to lay the groundwork this year” for a transfer of responsibility to the state in fiscal year 2004-05. The chief justice did not specify a price tag or suggest selling bonds to finance the transfer, but he has mentioned bonds in the past. Yesterday, he said he looks forward to working with lawmakers to find “a practical and affordable means of providing the people of our state with the court facilities they require and deserve.”
The bulk of George’s 30-minute speech was dedicated to briefing lawmakers on recent changes implemented in the courts, including the expansion of services for domestic violence victims, the addition of interpreters for those who don’t speak English, and the posting of self-help legal information on the Internet. The Web site had more than 1 million hits during its first few weeks in operation, he said.
“A self-help Web site will never take the place of legal representation by an attorney,” George said, “but for some individuals it may mean the difference between being able to participate in the process in a meaningful way and having their rights and interests overlooked in a system that simply may be too complex for them to penetrate effectively.”
He also told lawmakers about his efforts to teach citizens about how the courts operate. He noted that the Supreme Court has “taken our show on the road” by scheduling oral arguments in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside and Ventura, in addition to its usual sessions in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento. At each site, special programs are arranged to encourage local schools to view the sessions and engage in classroom discussions.
“This exposure to the courts in operation, along with guided discussions to help students gain insight into the process, is yet another vital step in educating young people about the courts, their role in our society and why our nation’s legal and judicial process is so important to their lives,” George said.
Pro Bono Services
George pledged to continue encouraging lawyers to increase their pro bono services, and to work closely with the Legislature’s staff to streamline and improve court services.
Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, who did not attend the governor’s State of the State address in January, was in attendance for George’s speech.
Burton led a moment of silence for the late Justice Stanley Mosk, who died in June after serving on the Supreme Court for 37 years. George also paid tribute to Mosk in his speech, saying “those of us who served with him on the courts or worked under him during his service as attorney general—as did Senator Burton and feel a deep sense of loss, both professionally and personally.”
Mosk’s successor, Justice Carlos Moreno, was in attendance along with his colleagues on the high court. Only Justice Janice Rogers Brown, who was out of the country, missed the speech.
Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson, D-Los Angeles, welcomed George to the Assembly chambers with a boisterous introduction, shouting, “Here come the judge! Here come the judge! Order in the courtroom, here come the judge!”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company