Award-Winning Courthouse Closes After Just 4 Years

Just four years after its opened amid much fanfare, one of California’s most scenic courthouses has become another victim of the state’s justice rationing, slated to close Nov. 3. A Plumas County News report quotes Plumas Superior Court Executive Officer Deborah Norrie saying that “… the trial courts have lost a billion dollars (in funding) in the last few years. The Plumas court has taken its fair share of hits.”
Known for its award winning design, Portola Courthouse is facing closure.

Known for its award winning design, Portola Courthouse is facing closure.


Plumas County, a Sierra Nevada community located near the Nevada border in northwestern California, has now lost three of its four court facilities, the newspaper noted, with the Greenville court closing in 2012 and Chester’s court closing last year. All cases in Plumas County will now be processed and heard at the Quincy courthouse, but with reduced court hours. The paper reported that, beginning Nov. 3, the court will be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Phones will be answered from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
 
The Portola courthouse won design awards and looks more like a ski area entrance than a traditional court building. It is owned by the state judicial system and it remains unclear what, if anything, will be done with the 6,500 square foot building. Local judges say they hope it reopens as a courthouse when funding is restored.
 

California Chief Justice: Budget Doesn’t Even ‘Tread Water’

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who has said that justice system budget cuts have created a new civil rights issue by limiting court access, is taking a softer tone in the wake of this year’s state budget, judging by published reports. For example, over the weekend the L.A. Times reported she “…  said Friday the new state budget will mean “more disappointment, service reduction and delay for those who need our courts.”
 
But she also thanked the governor and lawmakers for their efforts. The Times noted that the budget “… contains less than half the money Cantil-Sakauye said would be needed for trial courts “just to tread water” after years of courthouse closures, layoffs and other cutbacks… court employees are still being furloughed, and services to the public have been slashed. Court users have reported waits of as many as eight hours at clerk windows, and closures have forced some residents to drive several hours to get to the nearest open courthouse.”
 
The chief justice also said, according to the Times, that “.. she was grateful that Brown and the Legislature had added funds for specific court programs and were helping to solve the long term effect of employee benefit costs.” Read the story here: New California budget fails to ease court woes, chief justice says

Chief Justice George’s Memoir Still Gets Noticed

 
It made some headlines when it was published a few months back, but now some of the long-lead publications are writing about former state Chief Justice Ron George’s “oral self-history” entitled Chief: The Quest for Justice in California. And it’s not always pretty, with a good example coming from the City Journal.
 
After noting that not that many people pay attention to the court system, the Journal says “… but George’s story is significant if only as an illustration of judicial hubris, of how power breeds arrogance, and of how a desire for respect from the establishment leads to activism from the bench.” The piece is written by Mark Pulliam, familiar to many in the courts community for his work as legal issues writer for the California Political Review.
 
It’s a good take on the “King George” book, and you can read it here

Chief Justice, Budget Plans Sketched In Report

One of those end-of-year “people to watch” features is hardly the stuff of investigative journalism, but a piece in The Tribune newspaper in San Luis Obispo outlines at least part of the upcoming judicial budget battles. The feature on California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye is mostly glowing, but is among the few to note that early budget drafts exclude court budget increases.

The story is also one of the few that notes a specific number that the chief justice will seek from the legislature, although it is an indirect reference: “With those priorities in mind, Cantil-Sakauye is making a serious push for increased funding in the next fiscal year: another $472 million, which is about how much has cumulatively been cut from the judiciary’s budget since 2008.”

That report adds that “… that could be an uphill battle: Assembly Speaker John A. Perez released a blueprint budget plan earlier this month that included no new appropriations for the judiciary…” Read more here. 

U.S. Chief Justice Pleads For More Funding, Warns Of Constitutional Issues

The new year began with a New Year’s Eve warning from U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts that sounds a lot like a federal version of what California has been going through for several years. In effect, the Chief Justice is warning that court cutbacks are threatening access to justice, especially when it comes to public defenders and other rights guaranteed by the constitution.
 
This is not exactly new. Chief Justice Roberts has repeatedly warned of funding problems, especially those caused by the so-called sequestration cuts. But this warning comes a few weeks after two top officials from the nation’s Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts issued similar warnings.
 
As usual, the debate focuses on criminal courts but civil court delays were also noted. The Chief Justice wrote that “… in the civil and bankruptcy venues, further consequences would include commercial uncertainty, lost opportunities, and unvindicated rights. In the criminal venues, those consequences pose a genuine threat to public safety.”
 

‘King George’ Book Keeps Quotes Coming

Reports from the “King George” book signings keep making the rounds, including comments from a Berkley event where retired Los Angeles County Judge Charles Horan was quoted as saying “[Former Chief Justice Ronald M. George) never had enough power… I don’t know of a judge who hasn’t referred to him as King George. That was standard.”

The Courthouse News reports that “… while in California’s top judicial post, George was a principal force behind the centralization of California’s trial courts. Legislation in 1997 gave control of court rules and the roughly $3 billion court budget to California’s Judicial Council, where the chief justice chairs the meetings, votes and appoints 14 of the 21 voting members. The legislation also resulted in a huge growth in the personnel and power of the central court bureaucracy, where the chief justice is the staff’s ultimate boss.”

Judge George’s book, “Chief: The Quest for Justice in California,” has placed him back into the spotlight. At a recent event at the UC Berkeley campus, the CN reported, he was “… surrounded by shelves of books and reading tables. A space had been cleared for about 40 guests that included the current Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the administrative office director of operations Curt Child and colleagues, lawyers and family members. Proceeds from the book are being donated to the school.”
 
Keep up with the legacy discussion here.

Juvenile Court Issues Set For Dec. 4 ‘Summit’

Critics of how the Los Angeles Superior Court chose to close juvenile justice facilities may get a chance to air their concerns. The state court system is planning a Dec. 4 “statewide summit” hosted by Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

Called the Summit on Keeping Kids in School and Out of Court, it will bring experts to Anaheim to “… examine truancy and school discipline policies creating a ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ for California’s children and youth.”

The state website says the summit will be paid for, in part, by private companies but does not name the sponsors. Find out more here.