SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – San Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein announced late Thursday that 200 employees representing 40% of the court’s staff would be laid off and 25 courtrooms closed in response to the state budget passed by the Legislature this week.
California’s Legislature on Wednesday dealt a devastating cut to the state’s court spending money, lopping another $150 million from a budget that already had been cut by $200 million.
Feinstein said she was hopeful the Governor Jerry Brown’s veto of the budget would result in more money for the courts, but her tone was bleak and dramatic.
“Justice as we know it in San Francisco will be dismantled,” said in herwritten statement. “I can’t emphasize enough just how devastating this would be for our Court and for all people who depend on us. In short, justice will be on hiatus.”
“This budget is an insurmountable challenge for justice,” Feinstein said. “In one day the court’s deficit increased from $8.03 million to $13.75 million.”
Feinstein’s comments echoed those made Wednesday by California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who described the cuts as “crippling.”
“Courts are not a luxury,” said the chief. “They are at the heart of our democracy. These cuts threaten access to justice for all.”
The mood among the staff at the court was somber and signs of earlier budget cuts were everywhere, with stacks of work still unprocessed due to a shortage of workers. The court has had a hiring freeze in place since 2009, the doors have closed at noon on Fridays since January, and employees take furloughs one Friday per month.
“We have done everything to avoid staff layoffs during this prolonged period of austerity. However, we simply have no choice this time,” said T. Michael Yuen, the court’s Chief Executive Officer.
The Superior Court, which includes civil, criminal, probate, juvenile and family law departments, currently has 484 employees, so a 200 employee reduction would cut the court’s workforce by more than 40 percent.
“We are not an emergency room that can turn away patients because we are at capacity,” said Feinstein who is charge of the San Francisco court. “People want an orderly resolution to their disputes. If they can’t achieve that outcome, then we will see more disorderly resolutions. Unlike executive branch agencies, we cannot control how much work comes in. We are constitutionally unable to do that.”