Brown Sticks to Court-Funding Promise in Budget Revise

Gov. Jerry Brown gestures toward a chart showing the increase in K-14 school funding, while discussing his revised 2018-19 state budget at a Capitol news conference Friday, May 11, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. Brown proposed a $137.6 billion general fund budget, up nearly $6 billion from his earlier proposal in January. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California Governor Jerry Brown urged frugality in unveiling the revision of the final spending plan of his administration on Friday, keeping allocations to the judiciary largely unaltered from his January proposal but committing an additional $100 million to courthouse maintenance.

“We’re nearing the longest economic recovery in modern history, and as Isaac Newton observed: What goes up must come down,” Brown told reporters at the opening of his last budget-related press conference Friday morning, noting that he wants to leave the state’s finances in good shape for the next governor ahead of an inevitable recession.

This means saving for the future, he said, adding, “We need to keep a tight hand on the rudder as we steer through the turbulent waters.”

It was a message echoed by state Finance Director Michael Cohen, who like Brown cautioned that California is reaching the end of a 10-year economic recovery.

“It feels like we’re at the top of the economic cycle and there’s only one place to go from there,” he said.

Brown’s January proposal puts $150 million into court operations and promises $32 million to fund construction on courthouses in Riverside, Shasta, Siskiyou, and Tuolumne counties this fiscal year, and in Glenn, Sacramento, Sonoma, and Stanislaus counties in 2019-20.

The $150 million funding increase includes $19 million to expand self-help services for litigants without lawyers, $4 million for interpreter services and $3.4 million for a five-year pilot project to adjudicate minor traffic violations online.

All of these priorities were taken from the Commission on the Future of California’s Court System, a group Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye established in 2015 to plot the course of the state’s courts over the next 10 years.

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

“I am gratified that the governor’s strong proposed budget for the judicial branch references three of those Futures recommendations,” Cantil-Sakauye said in her State of the Judiciary address in March.

Cantil-Sakauye has called for a “a three-tier civil justice reform initiative,” which comprises reinstating regular hours at courthouses, supporting Brown’s budget, and adding a team of courthouse helpers to guide court visitors and assist with filling out legal forms.

On Friday, Cantil-Sakauye issued a statement praising Brown’s budget plan.  “The governor’s wise budget proposal is very welcome news for our court system,” she said. “His budget would restore and provide more in-person and online services for court users, increase language access, and invest in our infrastructure. The proposed budget will improve access to justice for all Californians.”

Both Cantil-Sakauye and Brown have also expressed support for reforming California’s bail system, issuing a joint statement last year voicing concern over how money bail affects the poor, and pledging to work toward a new system that considers both public safety and cost. Different solutions have been tossed around, with a pretrial detention working group appointed by Cantil-Sakauye recommending risk assessment tools that would keep arrestees from sitting in jail before trial – a plan that would be expensive for courts to implement.

On Friday, Cohen said his office would consider including money for bail reform as part of a future budget plan.

“It’s a complicated issue but if we can come up with a package that makes sense we would expect it to be within the budget context,” Cohen said.

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