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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
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California Chief Justice Seeks|Collaboration With Legislature

(CN) - With an impending audit of the Judicial Council and its bureaucracy, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye played up the need for more collaboration with the Legislature and the governor.

"Keen listeners may have noticed that I have yet to mention the need to properly fund the judicial branch," she said, drawing laughter from the Assembly floor. "We have a lot of catching up to do. And we want to be a partner in fair and collaborative solutions, just as we were a partner in reductions."

The judiciary has seen $1 billion in cuts since 2008, leading to court closures and layoffs by the hundreds. In a similar theme to last year's address, Cantil-Sakauye used historical context, in this case, the 50-year anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, to show how strained judicial resources can translate to a denial of justice.

"Court closures have deprived more than two million Californians access to justice to a local courthouse," she said, referring to some California residents being forced to drive hours to an open branch for court hearings.

"We face astonishing and harmful delays in family matters, business cases, for wrongful termination, and discrimination across the board. California faces a different civil rights crisis. It's not just about the law. It's about access to it."

She also framed the Civil Rights Act as an example of collaboration between branches, which she emphasized as a motivating factor behind the landmark law.

"It took collaboration," she said "The act was created by Congress and signed by the President. That's collaboration. But it also took collaboration with the third branch, the federal judicial branch, to hear challenges to the law and to be the final arbiter of its constitutionality."

The judiciary is in a precarious position in Sacramento. Many legislators have pushed for more funding for the trial courts, but are mistrustful that the judiciary's central bureaucracy, the Administrative Office of the Courts, will actually use those funds to keep courts open. This was the impetus behind a request from Assembly member Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) for the State Auditor to audit the AOC. His request was approved by a unanimous vote of the legislature's joint audit committee.

Cantil-Sakauye repeated last year's message of reform. "As a public official I believe in regular self-assessment. I firmly believe the status quo can always be improved," she said, reminding lawmakers of the intensive investigation she authorized of the AOC's policies, management and spending.

Cantil-Sakauye again plugged an open meetings rule for the Judicial Council, promulgated last year to skepticism from the press and government-transparency advocates. "I can guarantee two outcomes- for some the rule doesn't go far enough and two, for others the rule goes too far," she said. "But we're working on that. It will make us the most transparent judicial branch in the country."

The chief closed her speech with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who wrote to his colleagues in his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail": "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."

"I talked to you about fairness and collaboration, and how those values inspire us and connect us-all in service to the public," Cantil-Sakauye said. "These are the same values that motivated the Civil Rights Act. I would argue that that quote 50 years later is relatable to the three branches of government and how we operate and collectively serve the public."

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