Court Funding

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

The courts got new money in the May budget revision and it was long overdue. Circumstances leading to the lack of funding over the years may have been due, in part, to a ballot measure I supported 21-years ago when you hitch that measure to the legislature’s desire to expand health and welfare programs while ignoring the needs of the courts.

Before California increased and added health and welfare programs, justice received a larger share of the state budget. The shift away from this core government responsibility of justice was not wise. (Remember, the preamble to the United States Constitution calls first for the government to “establish Justice.”) But, clearly additional money to the courts was needed. It is undeniable that a backlog of cases was piling up. The situation verified the old saying that, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye has been calling for increased funding to relieve the court’s burden and she finally gained success with Gov. Newsom adding $51 million in court funding and millions in other court related functions. The Chief Justice said, “The Governor’s revision to his state budget proposal reflects his deep support for our goal of achieving equal access to justice for all Californians—wherever they live.”

The new money will fund 25 new judge positions and all that comes with adding judges. Currently, there are 20 Superior Court judgeships open, so Newsom will put his mark on the courts with nearly 50 appointments. Newsom promised to appoint a diverse core of justices “not just from the perspective of race or ethnicity but also geography, age—a bench that represents not just a prosecutorial bent but a defense bent, a consumer bent, an individual liberty bent. We’re broadening that scope.”

Hopefully, the new judges and additional dollars will allow for more efficient and rapid justice. This was the goal of Proposition 220 in 1998 which consolidated the municipal and superior courts. I signed the ballot argument in favor of the measure after talking to and joining Bill Lockyer who was leaving his post as President Pro Tem of the state Senate on his way to becoming Attorney General.

The goal was to have a more efficient and cost effective court system. The Legislative Analyst predicted the proposition would result in “annual net savings in the millions to tens of millions of dollars in the long term.”

However, one consequence over the years was that the courts became dependent on state funding since the now defunct municipal courts were a local responsibility, so courts were in competition with other sectors of the state budget. In that tussle, the court’s often finished—to use a horse racing term—out of the money.

Now they have some money. Let the courts use it wisely.

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