SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye called an emergency meeting of the Judicial Council Monday afternoon to discuss likely additional budget cuts to the judiciary, expected to be revealed next week by Governor Jerry Brown.
“I relayed my concerns that any further cuts to the judicial branch will be devastating, and I want our branch leaders to start thinking about how we can strongly oppose any further cuts and be prepared to respond to them, if they do indeed come,” said Cantil-Sakauye in a statement shortly after the meeting.
Dismal tax revenue projections for California have left the state’s beleaguered trial courts vulnerable to even deeper cuts than expected. In the past four years, the judiciary has seen $650 million in cuts, and is expected to take another hit at the start of the next fiscal year.
The chief and council’s primary goal was to convince the Governor and Legislature to restore $100 million in funding to the branch, but a call last week from the Governor’s office to the Administrative Office of the Courts signaled that all areas of government will likely receive more cuts in the revised budget.
Presiding Judge David Rosenberg of Yolo County, a council member who attended the emergency telephonic meeting, said that restoration is an impossibility. “At this point, it’s not happening. It’s certainly a worthy goal, and an appropriate goal, but in the context of the economic reality it’s just not happening,” Rosenberg said in an interview late Monday.
A judge speaking without attribution said Interim AOC Director Jody Patel had received a call from the Governor’s office saying that the court system will be dealt an additional cut in the next couple of months. Further, a projected “trigger cut” — if a tax increase is voted down by the taxpayers — would shoot up to $250 million.
Rosenberg dismissed those figures as rumor, saying, “Nobody knows what’s going to happen. Not even the Governor knows. My guess is they’ll work all weekend. Everything at this point is just rumor or speculation.”
He added that it is possible the judiciary’s construction fund for courthouse projects may again be swept into the state’s general fund. “The Governor and Department of Finance must submit a balanced budget. I imagine they are searching for every available pot of money.”
Rosenberg said no strategies were planned and no decisions were made at the council meeting, and that it was informational only.
Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye said she plans to call the council together for an in-person meeting after the budget is unveiled next week.
In a newsletter sent to all the presiding judges in the state by Rosenberg Monday, the head of the council’s trial court presiding judges committee called for colleagues to urge the Legislature and Governor to spare the courts further cuts.
“Essentially, this newsletter is sent in the nature of a ‘call to arms’ – or more properly, a call to pen and paper, laptop, desktop, phone, and office visit. The Judicial Branch has been pressed to the wall due to past one time and ongoing budget cuts,” said Rosenberg.
“Now, it appears that – unless the tide is reversed – the Judicial Branch will be in a true crisis in fiscal year 2012-13,” he wrote. “The result will be closing of courtrooms and courthouses, and layoffs of already thin court employee ranks. Some courts have already reduced staff by over 30% – further reductions will create a shell of a judicial system. It would be expected that civil courtrooms throughout the state will close.”