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A woman stands in the doorway of a courtroom closed due to budget cuts and layoffs, at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles March 16, 2009.
California’s shrinking budget is wreaking havoc on its judicial system, at a time when economic woes have led to an even greater need. As evictions, child support modifications and debt collections continue to clog the dockets, courtrooms are closing their doors, or struggling with diminished staff and reduced hours. Rural counties and fast-growing areas such as the Inland Empire are especially hard-hit.
This week, in her first State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature since taking office last year, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye warned that the situation was dire.
“We are already seeing worrisome and potentially dangerous delays in the resolution of cases,” she added.
And if that isn’t bad enough, she went on, the number of suspensions and expulsions in California schools could potentially lead to greater strain on its juvenile justice system.
While Superior Court filings have increased by 20 percent over the past decade, the judicial branch has seen its budget cut by nearly a quarter since 2008. California’s court system has a budget of $3.1 billion for the state’s 58 counties, courts of appeal and the Supreme Court.
Cantil-Sakauye has asked the Legislature to restore some $100 million in state funding and to increase court user fees – but with California’s budget already squeezed dry, is there anything left for this rainy day?
Jessica Levinson, professor, Loyola Law School
Judge Margaret Henry, acting presiding judge, Los Angeles Juvenile Court
Judge Laurie Earl, presiding judge, Sacramento Superior Court