The nation’s largest state judiciary will be hit by severe budget shortages, that may prompt shortened court hours, furloughed employees, the loss of 50 new judgeships and less money for state-funded lawyers.
The state’s trial courts, with more than 1,600 judges, will face nearly $250 million in cuts based on reduced allocations for lawyers appointed to represent dependent children, less money to cover increased pay and health expenses, higher rents and increased costs for security officers.
For the second year, the judiciary must delay a $17 million allocation to reform the probate courts, after reports two years ago exposed corruption in handling of some estates.
The judiciary budget was set at $3.84 billion for fiscal year 2009-2010, which starts July 1st, in the state’s $96 billion spending plan signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
California’s judiciary sees nine million filings annually, spread among more than 2,000 judicial officers and 22,000 court employees in 500 buildings.
This makes California the largest state court system in the nation.
Although Judiciary branch employees, as an independent branch of government, were spared the furloughs imposed on other government offices, nearly 50 of the 850 employees of the judiciary’s administrative office agreed to voluntary furloughs, of one day a month, as a cost saving measure.
The situation is increasingly dire in some parts of the state. Even before the current California budget crisis, Riverside County had too few judges to handle its criminal caseload and imposed a moratorium on civil trials.
The moratorium ended only when visiting judges were brought in as a stopgap measure. They continue to hold civil trials in closed schools and other buildings to shorten the backlog that had grown to four years.