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California courts to cut services, increase fees under budget proposal

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California judicial officials are saying the state budget plan Gov. Jerry Brown announced Thursday isn’t good for courts, but it’s not bad either.

“The good news is that it appears our trial courts will not suffer additional general fund reductions,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in a written statement.

“Unfortunately," she added, "our immediate and critical needs account, which is vital for court safety and compliance projects, stands to lose another $235 million, nearly eliminating meaningful upgrades for several years.”

State courts have been dealt $1.2 billion in budget cuts over the past five years. The proposed state budget released Thursday predicted that trial courts would have to make permanent changes to achieve about $200 million in savings.

Los Angeles Superior Court announced in November that it plans to close 10 court houses in the county this year because of budget reductions. Last year, L.A. courts laid off hundreds of court staff. San Bernardino and Fresno counties are planning shutdowns, too.  

The Governor’s budget proposal calls for statutory changes to reduce workloads through administrative efficiencies and an increase in user fees to pay trial court services.  

Consumer Attorneys of California President Brian Kabateck said the budget announcement was good in that it didn't propose deep operational cuts – but that increasing fees would limit access to the courts.

“The public has had to absorb big fee increases, longer lines, longer waits to access justice. If things don’t change, it’ll get far, far worse for our courts,” Kabateck said in a statement.

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