SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Following budget cuts totalling $315 million imposed by the Legislature over the last two years, the state’s judicial leadership unanimously approved an allocation of $247 million for California’s financially troubled trial courts. Most of the money will come from a trial court trust fund and courthouse construction funds, as well as monies from increased fees for parking citations and court services.
In a report and presentation to the Judicial Council on Friday, Finance Director Stephen Nash recognized while the state courts’ budget woes are not as dire as last year, most of the proposed funding consists of one-time solutions.
Still, council members were optimistic about this year’s budget situation. “Not that it’s great, but this budget is such a relief from last year. It would have been devastating to go through that again” said Contra Costa Superior Court Presiding Judge Mary Ann O’Malley, referring to last year, when the legislature passed $260 million worth of ongoing cuts from the judiciary’s budget.
This year, the branch faces $25 million in ongoing cuts and an additional $30 million reduction. “The $25 million and $30 million was something we could live with,” O’Malley said.
However, Judge Tia Fisher of Los Angeles said during a public comment period that the council’s drawing from special funds to offset the impact of the cuts was problematic.
“These one-time solutions will not solve permanent cuts,” she said, speaking on behalf of a group of trial judges called the Alliance of California Judges. In an interview after the meeting, Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe, also of the alliance, said trial courts have already sacrificed everything possible. “It’s hard to see how we can cut back anymore,” he said.
Even members of the Judicial Council acknowledged that despite this year’s temporary fixes, more money will need to be found next year to keep the courts open. “This is a house of cards built on one-time solutions. We need to find a way to continue these revenues,” said Mike Roddy, a court official from San Diego Superior. “We can’t continue to find $100 million to plug that hole. We need to be prudent and cautious in the way we use these funds.”