There are not a lot of issues that legal reformers and trial lawyers agree on, but one of those issues is court funding – specifically, the need for an adequately funded court system to ensure access to the civil justice system.
According to the National Center for State Courts, there were more than 1.2 million civil cases filed in California in 2009, the most recent year data was available. That number does not even include criminal cases, which take priority over civil cases in California. Given the trend in litigation in California, I’m willing to bet that the number of civil lawsuits filed in California has not decreased since 2009. What has gone down, though, is court funding.
The California courts have seen their budgets slashed by $1.2 billion – more than 24 percent – over the past five years. Last week, the issue came to a head when Los Angeles Superior Court officials announced plans to close 10 regional courthouses to address a projected $50 to $80 million budget shortfall. These cuts will cause slower case resolution and longer trips to the court. For instance, cases once assigned to Malibu will be sent to Santa Monica or Van Nuys. People resolving traffic tickets, misdemeanors, and small claims might have to travel 15 more miles to try and resolve these matters.
Average citizens are the ones impacted. Civil cases will be backed up farther than the 405 Freeway on a Friday, and the cost of delayed justice for these citizens will be incalculable. Legitimate cases may take years to be heard. More frightening still, we don’t know how many more cuts will be implemented.
Our state already needs hundreds of additional judges to handle the current case load. This situation is a crisis. There is a long list of reasons why California continues to have one of the nation’s worst legal climates, and consistently inadequate court funding is high on that list.