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In Focus: Judicial Branch Budget Crisis

3-Year Plan to Fund CA Courts
Photo Gallery: Chief Justice Announces 3-Year Blueprint

 

Impact of Cuts:

    2 million people denied access to justice in their local communities;

    51 courthouses closed;

    205 courtrooms closed;

    30 courts with reduced public service hours; and

    37 with reduced self-help/family law facilitator services

      The 3-Year Blueprint


      Introduction of the 3-Year Blueprint
      Jan 14, 2014
      Funding Needed for a Fully Functioning Judicial Branch

      Unprecedented budget cuts since 2008 hamper the people's access to justice. In 2013, courts struggled to maintain services while absorbing a cut of nearly a half billion dollars. One-time sources that softened past cuts are gone.

      On Jan 14, 2014, Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye introduced a Blueprint for a Fully Functioning Judicial Branch, outlining what is needed over three years to restore and improve access to justice in California. The blueprint focuses on four core elements:

      1. Implement Access 3D: Physical, Remote, and Equal Access
      2. Close the Trial Court Funding Gap
      3. Provide Critically Needed Judgeships
      4. Modernize Court Technology


      The Judicial Branch Receives a Penny of every General Fund Dollar
      "I submit to you, in the most diverse state in the union, that a penny on the dollar is insufficient to provide justice," Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, 2013 State of the Judiciary.

       

      1. IMPLEMENT ACCESS 3D
      Physical, Remote, and Equal Access for every Californian 

      1. Physical Access: Keep courts open and operating

      2. Remote Access: Implement technology services that put court users online rather than in line

      3. Equal Access: Ensure that courts are accessible to people of all languages, abilities, needs, and socio-economic levels

      Video: Access 3D

      2. CLOSE THE TRIAL COURT FUNDING GAP
      Budget cutbacks have exacerbated court funding inequities throughout the state

      The recently adopted Workload Allocation Funding Methodology (WAFM), a formula that determines how funds are equitably distributed to  trial courts, estimates that, based on existing workload, trial courts alone need more than $1 billion more than they currently receive.  What is WAFM?

      3. PROVIDE CRITICALLY NEEDED JUDGESHIPS
      More judges are needed to provide the public with timely access to justice

      Workload estimates indicate that California needs 314 more judges than the state currently funds. In 2007, the Legislature authorized but has not yet funded 50 new trial court judges; the seats remain unfilled. 
       Judge Lorna Alksne, chair of the Judicial Branch Resource Needs Assessment Advisory Committee explains


      4. MODERNIZE COURT TECHNOLOGY
      Court users should be able to conduct routine court business online

      The current paper-based court system is costly and inefficient. The Judicial Council's Technology Planning Task Force is finalizing a judicial branch technology plan in the spring of 2014.  The plan will provide a roadmap and process for managing technology initiatives for which additional funding will be sought.

      FUNDING THE BLUEPRINT: 2014–15 to 2016–17

      YEAR ONE

      The Blueprint calls for $1.2 billion over three years. Here are details for a first-year reinvestment of $612 million.


      Closing the Funding Gap—$353 million

      An additional $353 million is needed to provide the necessary baseline for adequate judicial branch operations.

      Trial Court Employee Costs—$96.3 million

      Health benefit and retirement costs of trial court employees are on the rise. $64.8 million is needed in the current budget year (and thereafter). Reduction of services and eliminating even greater numbers of court staff positions will result without this funding. Once the Governor's administration completes collective bargaining with the 21 state executive branch employee bargaining units, a request to provide a mean increase for trial court employees will be submitted. A 2% cost-of-living adjustment requires $31.5 million for the trial courts.

      Trial Court Judgeships—$82.6 million

      In 2007, the Legislature authorized 50 new trial court judges (AB 159, Stats. 2007, ch. 722). However, the positions remain unfunded and unfilled. The Judicial Council seeks funding for the 50 positions—$82.6 million for the first year, and $45.5 million annually in ongoing costs.

      Court Facilities—$35.8 million

      General Funds are needed for $33.7 million in trial court facility modification projects, including major repairs, system lifecycle replacements, and safety-related renovations ($12 million); facility operational costs ($20 million); and the purchase of insurance to provide for effective risk management and damage and destruction event financing of trial court facilities ($1.7 million).

      In addition, a request of $2.1 million has been made,  to cover rent increases at state buildings that house the Supreme Court; the First, Second, and Third District Courts of Appeal; and the Judicial Council/AOC. 

      Dependency Counsel—$33.1 million

      Counsel appointed to assist youth and parents in dependency proceedings handle, on average, 250 clients at a time because the fund that serves this need is grossly inadequate. The Judicial Council seeks to permanently increase the budget by $33.1 million per year to reduce the caseload to 188. (The American Bar Association recommends 100 clients per attorney.)

      State Judicial Branch Employee Costs—$6.3 million

      To cover increased health benefit and retirement costs of judicial state branch employees in the Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeal, $2.2 million is needed in the budget year (and thereafter). Once the Administration completes collective bargaining with the 21 state executive branch employee bargaining units, a request to provide a mean increase for all judicial branch employees will be submitted. A 2% cost-of-living adjustment requires an infusion of $4.1 million for the Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal, Habeas Corpus Resource Center, and the Judicial Council/AOC.

      Appellate Court Justices—$2.3 million

      Due to increased workload, two additional appellate court justices are needed in Division Two of the Fourth Appellate District. The Judicial Council seeks funding for the two new positions at an estimated cost of $2.3 million for the first year, and $2.1 million annually in ongoing costs.

      Habeas Representation—$2 million

      To add 26 positions to address the increased number of death penalty cases requiring capital habeas representation.

      Supreme Court Workload —$913,000

      To provide the Supreme Court with additional resources to address mandated workload.

      LOOKING AHEAD: BRANCH FISCAL MANAGEMENT

      Baseline Budget Adjustment — Given the current level of and method for funding for the branch, neither the state level judicial branch entities nor local trial courts can adequately maintain operations or absorb annual increases in employee health benefits and pension costs. A mechanism to provide stable and reliable funding for the branch, which will include some level of annual adjustment, must be determined.