Writer Details Court Funding Issues

Dan Walters, best known for covering the state legislature for the Sacramento Bee newspaper, has published a significant opinion piece offering a good summary of recent court budget cuts. He notes that “… on paper, the nation’s largest system of courts looked like a winner, with a 61.3 percent increase in state support… however, it was misleading since the boost basically restored a one-time cut in spending from the previous year, but left intact a $600 million-plus reduction from earlier years.”
He also pointed out that “the budget continued to tap into local courts’ financial reserves [and] in brief, the budget did little to relieve the severe cutbacks in trial court operations that have been imposed in recent years, and thus did little to heal the sharp division within the state’s judiciary — judge vs. judge — over how the pain has been allocated”
Walters piece is bound to get some pass-along traffic in the justice community, in part because it explains that “the Alliance of California Judges, a rebel group, has charged that the state’s judicial bureaucracy has been spending too much money on itself, on a grandiose courthouse construction program and on a statewide case management computer system that proved to be inoperative, leaving trial courts starved for money.
“The organization, teaming with court employee unions, has made some headway in seeking more independence for trial courts, despite opposition from Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and the rest of the judicial establishment. The Cantil-Sakauye faction has argued that the courts’ problem is not how the money is distributed, but insufficient overall financing. And now it is muscling up to press that argument on the governor and the Legislature by creating its own advocacy organization called the Foundation for Democracy and Justice.
It will be finding itself not only jousting with the Alliance of California Judges but with every other budget stakeholder. The budget is a zero-sum game and every win for one group is a loss for another.”
It’s a good “clip-and-copy” piece for anyone hoping to explain the situation facing California’s justice system. And his work will no doubt be picked up by affiliated state newspapers. See the opinion here.
You can follow Dan Walters on Twitter: @WaltersBee