Courts See Funding Boost in Signed California Budget

California Supreme Court headquarters in San Francisco. (Photo credit: Coolcaesar/Wikipedia)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the final budget of his 16 collective years as governor Wednesday, a spending plan that sends $248 million to the judiciary.

The package includes $75 million in discretionary funding for the trial courts and another $48 million for historically underfunded courts. Other items include $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.

“The judicial branch budget presented by the Legislature and signed by the governor represents a tremendous investment in providing equal access to justice for all Californians,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in a statement Wednesday.

Brown kept a promise made in January to pledge more dollars to build new courthouses across the state, with $32 million to complete the design of three courthouse projects in Riverside, Sonoma and Stanislaus counties. An additional $1.3 billion in lease revenue bonds will go toward completing construction on those courthouses, along with seven others in Imperial, Riverside, Shasta, Siskiyou, Tuolumne, Glenn, and Sacramento counties.

The governor also committed $64 million to replace lost revenues from fines and fees, levied against those who fail to show up in court or pay their traffic tickets on time. Courts have scrambled to make up for that lost income, compounded by Brown’s elimination of the courts’ ability to suspend a person’s driver’s license for failing to pay fines and fees in his budget plan last year.

In a statement, Judicial Council administrative director Martin Hoshino said courts shouldn’t need to rely on fine and fee revenue to stay afloat, praising Brown’s $64 million backfill.

“This is an important move toward a fairer way of funding our courts,” he said in a statement.  “This budget acknowledges that court services and infrastructure should be supported by sustainable funding at the state level, rather than through fines and fees paid by Californians who need our courts.”

Notably, Brown’s budget also spares the state commission in charge of investigating and disciplining judges for misconduct from a $500,000 cut proposed by legislators.

The Commission on Judicial Performance recently fought and won a major lawsuit exempting them from having to turn over records on complaints against judges to California State Auditor Elaine Howle, who is in the middle of conducting the first-ever audit of the commission’s budget, rules, standards and procedures.

The final budget leaves intact the $5.2 million originally allocated to the agency by Brown’s May spending proposal. Howle’s office is still litigating the case.

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