Statewide Hearings Bring Focus to Funding Crisis in the Courts

hearing panel

Dec 7, 2011

(SAN FRANCISCO) Appellate Justice James Lambden spoke of lines so long at the Wiley Courthouse in Oakland that people are told to come back the next day when they finally reach the door. In line at the clerk's office, Lambden said, people "begin to stamp their feet and shout 'open a window, open a window,' to the point that security becomes nervous."

Similar scenarios were shared at a hearing on Tuesday, Nov 30 at the Administrative Office of the Courts in San Francisco. The hearing was one of four held throughout the state organized by the State Bar of California, The California Commission on Access to Justice and business advocacy group CalChamber.

Last year, the California judicial branch was delivered a devastating $350 million cut. Since then, courts have laid off employees, reduced their hours and services to the public, and have closed courtrooms. At the hearing, witnesses testified to long lines and diminished services to impoverished litigants, many of whom rely on legal aid provided by the courts.

At Tuesday’s hearing, the Chief Justice described the budget as a "monumental challenge and fight."

"The rule of law is sometimes forgotten in discussions about our budget," she said. "When we're not open or our hours are reduced, what we see is a diminution of the rule of law, which I say is our birthright," said the Chief Justice. (more)

In November 2011, the Legislative Analyst Office projected that the state will face a $13 billion shortfall between now and next fiscal year's budget, posing additional threats to the state’s court system.

"Only with a properly functioning justice system can law be evenly applied. Its functions should not be dispensed with when resources are limited," stated State Bar president Jon Streeter.

The full hearing will be available for download. Presiding participants (listed as pictured above, left to right):

Tuesday’s hearing was presided by Kim Turner, Court Executive Officer, Superior Court of Marin County
Stephen Walters, Partner, Allen Matkins, LLP
Jon Streeter, President, State Bar of California
James Brosnan (Chair), Senior Partner, Morrison & Foerster, LLP
Noreen Evans, Senator and Chair of the California Senate Judiciary Committee
Drucilla Ramey, Dean and Professor of Law, Golden Gate University School of Law

Excerpts from Opening Remarks made by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye at the hearing held Tuesday, Nov 30, at the AOC in San Francisco.

audio icon Commitment to Public Service (1:35)

"Whether we’re justices, chief, judge, lawyers, student, partner—we represent with the public. Our service is to the public. And there are levels of us along the way but ultimately our passion and commitment lies with the public. And in times when jobs are lost and homes are taken and services are reduced, the legal system needs to be fully operating to answer those kinds of concerns and to be there to guarantee the rights and process of those most vulnerable. Those who need legal services and pro bono services throughout the state.

In the last 11 months, as John alluded to, I spent...sort of on a listening tour, going up and down the state listening to bar leaders and bar associations and stakeholder groups and judges and courts and staff about what it is and how it looks like in our fourth year of consecutive budget cuts. And what that means to our public because ultimately our question always defined by the issue is, 'how are we serving our public?' which is in it most neediest stage in its fourth year of fiscal weakness in the state of California. And in those four years, I submit to you, the Judicial Branch, with the help and leadership of the State Bar, lawyers and staff have found innovated, unusual, exciting ways to change our business model to continue to provide services. But we can never forget that our bottom line is serving the public. And the most needy public continues to be those who need legal services."

audio icon Cuts Weaken Access to Justice and Diminishes Rule of Law (1:03)

"...listen to the news, turn on the TV, click on your I-Pad, pick up a paper and all you need to hear after ever crises is 'we’re going to court' or a day later, they're in court. That’s what we do, that’s what we exist for. We exist to absolve the evils of the world in a fair manner under the rule of law. And I know the rule of law is sometimes forgotten in our discussion about the budget and about the impact on the people who need services. But it is the rule of law that is ultimately at stake.  Its because only through civil justice, through litigation that we change and develop the rule of law. And when you curtail our ability to have that forum, when we’re not open, when we’re closed, when our hours are reduced, when those with causes popular and unpopular can’t get into court because they don’t have a lawyer or because the court is unable for some reason to accommodate that issue within a timely manner, what we see I think, is a diminution of the rule of law, which is our legacy, our foundation, and I submit our birthright."

 Chief Cantil-Sakauye speaking from a podium
Chief Justice Justice
Tani Cantil-Sakauye