State court cuts called on in HuffPo

A major national story by Joanne Doroshow on the Huffington Post Politics blog is a bit sarcastic toward Gov. Brown and laments the “Slow Death of Justice in California.”  The writer, who has a day job with the Center for Justice and Democracy at New York Law School, virtually scoffs at the governor’s priorities, writing that Brown is “… so excited… about the state’s budget situation that in his State of the State address, he spoke starry-eyed about ideas that suddenly seemed possible, like a new high-speed rail.”
The story is an important counter-narrative to the Brown administration’s attitude that the state has somehow managed to create a surplus and can now begin spending on certain projects while looking the other way on court shortfalls. Read it here.

Be Alarmed, Be Very Alarmed

The Sacramento-based Capitol Weekly, which focuses on state government, is quoting the chief of California’s Senate Judiciary Committee sounding an alarm. “We should all be alarmed. Every single one of us,” says Sen. Noreen Evans, who chairs the committee. The newspaper outlines some of the impacts of budget cutting: “Resolving a divorce, a custody tussle, a contract dispute, a landlord tenant fight, an unpaid debt or any number of multimillion-dollar or small claims civil issues takes longer and costs more than it used to.”
And the Weekly adds some numbers we’ve not seen before. After reporting that a day in court will become “… even more time-consuming, experts say, because of the steady diet of state budget cuts force fed to the courts in California, the nation’s largest judicial system” the story notes that “… since June of 2009, the state general fund’s share of the court’s $3.1 billion budget has fallen from 56 percent to 20 percent.

The story is written by Greg Lucas, who is a contributing editor of the Weekly but also host of TV’s “Politics on Tap” that shows on the California Channel. Read the story here.

Times Editorial Adds to Courts Chorus

It’s hard to know exactly how much an L.A. Times editorial still matters these days, but the paper is taking a strong stand against the governor’s planned court budget cuts while framing the issue quite clearly. It’s especially important to note that the LAT got it spot-on by noting that the justice system is more than just another government program. It also does a good job of pointing out exactly who will lose the most if the cuts continue.
For the courts community, it’s not to be missed…read story here.

Rationed Justice: Sac Bee latest to lament court budgets

The Sacramento Bee continues to bang the court-crisis drum, pointing out that San Joaquin County has stopped bothering to set hearings for small-claims cases and thousands of other civil cases are backlogged as budget cuts force California courts to ration justice – in effect, choosing winners and losers from the funding cutbacks.

Notes the Bee in story this week: “California’s Penal Code mandates that criminal cases get precedence, civil cases have borne the brunt of pared-back staffing and hours. That has forced courts to choose which types of cases are priorities and which can wait…”

The paper says that “… years of general fund cutbacks – about $1.2 billion total since 2008, including $475 million from trial courts – have already forced courts to recalibrate. While California does not keep comprehensive statewide data on the impact of court funding, a county-by-county breakdown in a judicial branch website reveals a litany of reduced hours, vacant positions, shuttered courthouses and eliminated programs for handling domestic violence and family law.” Read the entire story, part of a push-back effort from judges, here.

New story on courts budget brings the numbers crisis to life


There’s a “tipping point” story out on the brutal California courts budget, written by Linda Deutsch of the Associated Press and being carried all over the state. Deutsch is well-known to the justice community, having covered the state courts for the AP over four decades. Her story has some of the more brutal comments to date and likely represents a new PR offensive against Gov. Brown’s plans.
Don’t miss this report, with an L.A. presiding judge, who is helping close 60 courtrooms and 10 courthouses, saying that “… we are witnessing the dismantling of the Los Angeles justice system.” Deutsch leads the story like this: “A famous judge sits in a cold, shuttered courtroom pushing papers while the California Supreme Court chief justice fumes over the state of court funding.”
Even Judge Lance Ito, yes the O.J. Simpson judge, laments that he has no staff, no bailiff, no court reporter “… and I have to persuade friendly clerks to enter minute orders… there’s no heat in here and the furniture has been cannibalized.”
It is the kind of report that brings the numbers crisis to life. Find it via the Orange County Register here.

Judge Elias says church must ID accused priests

An L.A. County Superior Court Judge has ruled that names will be named as the Archdiocese of Los Angeles releases records, expected to be in the 30,000 page range, that document how the church leadership handled sexual abuse claims against priests.
The records include formerly confidential personnel records that could include psychiatric files, parents’ letters of complaint and even Vatican correspondence. They are being released as part of a 2007 settlement between the archdiocese and more than 500 victims, 200 accused priests and abuse going back for decades. The settlement included $720 million for victims.
Superior Court Judge Emilie H. Elias said, in effect, that the public’s right to know how the church leadership handled molestation allegations outweighed other concerns. The judge reportedly asked a church lawyer: “Don’t you think the public has a right to know … what was going on in their own church?”
The L.A. Times was part of the request for making the names public and its story is here. 

Courts ‘status quo’ deemed a disaster

It seems to be a looming crisis of perception: The governor’s new budget, announced last week, appears to preserve the “status quo” for the court system, but that’s only because it doesn’t go beyond the drastic cuts already announced. That’s a perfect storm of sorts, because many of the court closings and other changes have not yet been implemented. Only when that happens will we see true outrage.

Brian Kabateck, president of Consumer Attorneys of California, is among those pushing back against the budget, especially now that the governor has announced that the state deficit “is over.” Says Kabateck in an L.A. Times report: “At first blush the governor’s new budget appears to maintain the status quo… unfortunately, with the courts absorbing more than $1 billion in cuts over the past five years, the status quo isn’t acceptable. The status quo has been a disaster.”

As the governor and others spin their budget miracles, it’s worth keeping track of how much was already cut. Here’s the report from the Times.

Chief Justice to press case on court cuts

Word is out on Gov. Brown’s new budget and its treatment of the nation’s largest state justice system, and the best that can be said is that some officials hope they can change his mind before the courts take more hits despite increasing California revenues. Otherwise, they say we can just be happy it isn’t getting that much worse than the cuts already announced for 2013,
There’s lots of coverage, but the San Jose Mercury News’ Howard Mintz, who covers legal affairs for the paper, has one of the better reports. He cites Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye expressing relief that the court branch isn’t being cut further, but adding that “she will now press her case with the governor and Legislature to restore some of the hundreds of millions of dollars lost in recent years, citing court closures, cuts in services and other strains on the California justice system.”
“This is January, not June,” the judge tole the paper when the budget was released last week. “We’d like to keep the dialogue open. This budget doesn’t answer our problems and our challenges.” Read more details here.

Gov’s budget presented today

Gov. Brown is announcing his budget today (Thursday), and from all the buzz it’s not going to be especially great news for the courts system. Our sources say there’s little chance that announced cuts will be rolled back, and that the 10 L.A. County courthouses set to close will remain on the chopping block. We’ll be sifting thru the analysis, but the oddest turn so far is that some Democrats, unhappy with what they see as the governor’s caution in the face of an improving economy, are already counting votes to override any veto of their spending proposals. Stay tuned, indeed. 

‘Supermajority’ driving Dems wild and crazy?

Soon enough, the media’s focus will be on outrage over state service cutbacks, but right now media focus is shifting to some unique laws that would usually be ignored. But, now that Democrats have that “supermajority” in both the House and Senate, along with the governor’s office, there’s the “ya never know” aspect to off-center ideas.

Legal open urination on public property? Another state employee holiday amid the cutbacks? The Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters has some insight in his video blog, and that’s significant because he often leads media trends in how such things are covered. He says with friends like these, the Democratic leadership does not need enemies.

See it for yourself here.