The Superior Court of California, County of Contra Costa, has joined with 48 other trial courts to urge Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., to provide California’s trial courts with adequate funding.
In a letter signed by 49 of California’s 58 trial courts, presiding judges and court executive officers (CEOs) from across the state have joined together in an unprecedented effort to stem the loss of funding for the judicial branch.
Hon. Jill Fannin, presiding judge of the Superior Court of Contra Costa County, stated that “the proposed budget is terrible for trial courts. It doesn’t include any money for cost increases and it doesn’t provide backfill for years of declining local revenues.”
“It is imperative that the Governor, the Legislature and the public understand the impact of this proposed budget to California’s trial courts,” said Brian Taylor, CEO of the Superior Court of Solano County. “It is more important now than ever that people have access to the court system. This budget will force courts to close courtrooms, limit clerk’s office hours, reduce self-help services and reduce staff. To ensure access to the courts, more funding must be forthcoming.”
Stephen H. Nash, CEO of the Superior Court of Contra Costa County, noted that the Governor’s proposed budget, which retains funding for the trial courts at the same level as last fiscal year, will result in an overall reduction in the courts’ resources. “First the State slashed trial court budgets. Now our local revenues are falling, and once again the Governor proposes no funding for local court employee cost increases. Court pockets are empty and the cupboards are bare: court staffing is down between 25 percent and 30 percent over the last five years, and state operations and facility funds are almost depleted. Looking forward, meanwhile, we are told that recession is a possibility and the ‘good times’ may soon be coming to an end!”
Chad Finke, CEO of the Superior Court of Alameda County, noted that “despite being in a period of state surpluses and record reserves, courts like ours are having to get by with less funding than we had last year. In fact, we are even poorer than we were two years ago. The Governor’s budget proposal, if approved, will make next year even worse for the courts. This chronic underfunding of the trial courts means that resources, operations, and services of the courts will continue to erode, and the public’s access to justice will be diminished.”
The appeal follows a review of the governor’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2017-2018, which provides no additional funding proposed for trial court operations.
Without an increase in funding over last year, Superior Courts across California are saying the proposed budget will result in a net decrease to court budgets from this current fiscal year. This is due to, among other things, the rising cost of doing business in California (e.g., utility costs, rents, vendor expenses, employee salaries). It also results from governmental actions such as elimination of Proposition 47 funding, additional workload from voter-approved initiatives such as Propositions 57 and 64, legislative changes such as AB 2839 that considerably increase workload without accompanying offsetting funding and the proposed elimination of a court’s ability to place a hold on a traffic defendant’s driver’s license for failure to pay or appear, the latter of which appears to have the unintended consequence of reducing revenues to the trial courts, counties and the state.
In Contra Costa and Solano counties, a moratorium on driver’s license holds has been placed. Both courts have seen an approximate 25 percent reduction in collections.