TV Station Blasts Chief Justice’s Use of CHP ‘Armed Taxis”

Noting that it costs some $4 million per year (and $21 million since 2009), the ABC News affiliate in Sacramento has aired an investigative story on how California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye uses armed CHP officers for transportation. Notes the station: “Surveillance video captured California’s chief justice using her armed Highway Patrol escort to take her to her Sacramento home. The video shows the plain-clothed officer removing what appears to be shopping bags from the trunk of an unmarked car.”
The report makes a stong link between the chief justice’s request for additional court funding and her use of the CHP protective service. The video of the CHP officer driving her home and removing shopping bags from the state vehicle is repeated. CHP rides for judges: Security or personal taxi?

‘Alliance’ Judges Continue Court Critique

The Alliance of California Judges, a group that offered a statewide voice to critics of how the courts are being operated, is continuing its critique. As the annual state budget season shifts into high gear, and with the state chief justice saying that funding has become a civil rights issue, the Alliance asserts that the very system of funding is flawed.
“Former Chief Justice Ronald George’s vision of a unified judicial branch — directed by a central bureaucracy, bound together by a massive computer network, housed in dozens of gleaming new courthouses, acting in unison with the Chief Justice at its head — has proven to be a mirage,” writes Maryanne Gilliard, a Superior Court Judge in Sacramento who has been active in the Alliance for years. In 2011, the Sacramento CBS TV news affiliate called her a “whistleblower” in connection with the failed attempt to consolidate the state’s court computers (see coverage here).
Writing in The Courthouse News, Judge Gilliard uses Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye’s own words in support of her point, in particular noting that the centralized vision has not led to stable funding and that the “CCMS” computer system’s $500 million is “the most prominent example” of poor oversight.
It’s the latest salvo showing that the Alliance remains active. Read it here

Chief Justice Seeks Another $266m For Courts

Think what you will of California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, she is proving relentless at advocating for increased courts funding. A recent example came with an KABC Los Angeles Eyewitness News interview with Adrienne Alpert, who asked tough questions about court management and budget issues. 

Alpert notes that “… chief justices rarely agree to interviews, but Cantil-Sakauye is adamant the $105 million the governor added to the judicial budget is not nearly enough” then adds that “the chief justice says it will actually take $266 million to keep the courts running as they are and more than double that to fully serve the public.”

The interview is interesting, in part, because it refines the likely points as the state budget annual deadline moves into the two-month range. See video and text of the story here

Chief Justice Still Pushing For Court Funds

With Gov. Brown’s approval numbers soaring and his 2014 budget getting mostly favorable reviews, you have to admire state Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye’s continued efforts to rally somebody, anybody, behind increased judicial funding. On a recent stop to rally Inland Empire attorneys, she addressed the “impression” that the courts had created their own crisis through mismanagement.
The Riverside News newspaper reported on the chief justice’s visit, saying she “pushed back on criticisms that the state court system is solely responsible for its financial straits” and quoted her as saying “there is a presumption, somehow, in the capitol in Sacramento that the judicial branch is where it is now, with courtrooms closed and less services … because somehow, somehow, we mismanaged ourselves into the situation.” 
Cantil-Sakauye said her counter is: “I have to remind them, ‘You took $1.5 billion from us,’ that’s how we’re here … If you ask me, we have done a remarkable, miraculous job of keeping the doors open when you took $1.5 billion from the judicial branch.”
The newspaper offered some context, reporting that “the chief justice did not specify the source of the criticism, but in 2012 the California Judicial Council voted to halt development of a statewide court computer system that some critics claimed consumed $500 million during years of tinkering that brought it no closer to operation.”
Read about the gathering here

Great New Courthouse Threatened By Budget Woes

Up in Porterville, a San Joaquin Valley community of about 60,000, they have one of those great new courthouses that escaped state judicial budget cuts. It sounds great, described as a “… sparkling new 96,500 square-foot courthouse” with nine courtrooms, holding cells for 85 inmates, solar panels, natural lighting and drought-resistant landscaping. The $93-million facility replaced a much smaller courthouse that had only two courtrooms, making it an important addition to a town experiencing a population boom.”
Tulare County, Porterville Courthouse (photo:

Tulare County, Porterville Courthouse (photo:

One problem though. Local press is quoting the presiding judge saying that budget cuts actually threaten operation of the new facility.  “We are short-handed everywhere you look. We have cut and cut some more,” the presiding judge, Lloyd Hicks, told the local Visalia Times-Delta newspaper. “If we are [to] cut another $2 million, we would be faced with closing the new courthouse.”
The story is being reported in a Minneapolis-based news website, the The MintNews. In a story by Matt Heller, a California correspondent, the MintNews takes a good look at the statewide crisis and reports on specific problems, like “… waiting time for mediation in child custody disputes has risen in at least 19 counties, with parents in Stanislaus County having to wait up to 17 weeks, the report said. Some counties have eliminated hearings in small claims disputes and 11 counties told the committee they are no longer able to process domestic violence restraining orders the same day they are filed.”
Read the story here.

Media Effort For Court Budget Increase Continues

“Justice doesn’t come cheap,” begins the editorial in The Sacramento Bee, adding that “California’s top court official has put out a price tag for the Legislature and public to ponder – $1.2 billion. That’s how much more the judicial branch needs annually by 2016-17 to recover from four years of steep budget cuts and restore a fully functioning court system.”
Say what you will of California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, you have to admit she’s working the state’s mainstream media in hopes of getting more cash for the courts. The SacBee is the latest to note that she is rejecting the governor’s “$105 million” increase, saying it will mean more layoffs. The state capitol newspaper writes that “… Cantil-Sakauye asserts – and the Legislative Analyst’s Office agrees – that because the courts can’t dip into reserves as they did the last two years, that would be a net reduction….” She says another $161.5 million will just “tread water” and keep the current level of services, plus cover an increase in employee health and retirement costs.
The paper also notes that “… the Judicial Council must accept some responsibility. Before pulling the plug in 2012, it wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on a badly botched statewide computer system designed to bring the courts into the 21st century. Administrative offices got fat. There’s more work to do to make the courts more efficient.” Truly, the budget games have begun.
Read more here.

Chief Justice: Justice Rationing Is A Civil Rights Issue

The real battle over Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2014-15 budget plans got under way this week with California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye saying that budget cuts are not just a fiscal problem but a civil rights problem. Her comments at a Tuesday press conference and in related interviews indicate that the “civil rights issue” will likely highlight this year’s argument for more courts funding. Last year, cuts in Los Angeles County brought threats of legal action based largely on access issues.
The chief justice told the Los Angeles Times that the governor’s spending plan probably would trigger more courthouse closures and layoffs and increase delays for trials and divorce and custody matters. Brown’s plan includes an “additional” $105 million for the courts in 2014-15, but Cantil-Sakauye wants a three-year plan with much more spending. “We are rationing justice, and it has become more than a fiscal problem,” Cantil-Sakauye told reporters. “It is, in my view, it is now a civil rights problem. … We know we are denying the protections of an American democracy.”

You can read the L.A. Times story 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. 

Chief Justice Favors Transparency She Controls

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (Photo: California Courts)

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (Photo: California Courts)

The Courthouse News has some of the better coverage from a year-end press meeting with Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye, who still says she favors court transparency despite having led the successful effort to remove open-meeting requirements from legislation. Apparently she supports the rule if judges write it, with TCN reporting that “… while the chief justice lobbied against a bill requiring open meetings by Judicial Council committees, she said she always supported the idea but wanted the judiciary to have control over the language in the rule.”
She explained that: “Because I think there are different considerations with judges who are on the advisory committees that draft the proposals for council to consider. In the process of drafting those proposals and deciding if a proposal should even come to council, judges still in their judicial role speak about substantive issues of law…  we have a concern about the code of judicial ethics and what judges can and cannot say in the process of a heated argument in the development of a proposal versus what they can and should be saying publicly.” 
And of course she noted “… a new long-term fiscal plan for the courts that she hopes will persuade the governor to restore $1 billion in funding to the judicial branch over five years.” Read more here.

Chief Justice Notices ‘Two-Tiered’ Court System

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (Photo: California Courts)

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (Photo: California Courts)

Anyone seeking evidence that California has created a two-tier system that denies justice to lower income residents can just ask the state’s chief justice. Echoing a host of earlier comments, Tani Cantil-Sakauye told KQED News that “The truth is, those who can will use other, private alternatives… but those of us who need to go to the court, who don’t have those resources, find ourselves frankly getting a second system of justice.” 
The report also included that “… the Chief said severe state budget cuts had created a ‘two-tier system of justice’ in California, where shuttered courthouses and shorter courtroom hours are ‘basically denying justice across the state.'” The comment continue a consistent message from state court managers that the system is broken and that the losers include lower and moderate income people who need the courts.
See video and read more about this particular interview, which includes that the chief justice self-identified as a Republican, here.