For years the judges on San Mateo County’s bench all tended to come from similar backgrounds, either that of a prosecutor or of a civil litigator. There were no former public defenders, and only one Asian American judge – Elizabeth Lee.
The San Francisco Examiner reports that a shift in this trend occurred in 2010, when two public defenders, Judge Leland Davis III and Judge Donald Ayoob (photo), were appointed to serve on the San Mateo County Superior Court.
Davis is now the lone African American judge serving in the county, and Ayoob is the sole Arab-American, the article notes. Read more
In San Diego, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the offices for the Federal Defenders are only a few blocks apart, yet they have been affected quite differently by across-the-board federal budget cuts, says the U-T San Diego News.
Federal Defenders of San Diego is a private nonprofit funded by the government. Under the recent budget cuts, known as sequestration, all staff will have to take six unpaid furlough days.
It’s the opposite story at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, since Attorney General Eric Holder announced in an April 25th memo that department employees will not be furloughed this fiscal year.
Besides San Diego, federal public defenders offices across the country are reducing hours and public services (see Gavel Grab). This has led to criticism that budget cuts are affecting public defenders and prosecutors differently, the article says. Read more
The California Judicial Council approved a highly anticipated proposal to revise funding methods for state courts on Friday, reports the Press-Enterprise.
The members of a Trial Court Budget Working Group were appointed to research and propose a new funding model that would boost allocations to underfunded courts, such as those in Riverside and San Bernardino County, according to Courthouse News Service.
Under the new formula, state funding will be based on workload of the courts, including the number of case filings the courts receive. Courts in San Bernardino County and Riverside County will receive more funding, while courts in areas such as Santa Clara County will get less than they have received in the past. Read more
California’s judicial leaders are planning to implement a Robin Hood-style distribution of limited court funds by taking money going to courts in Northern California, and sending it to other courts throughout the state, reports the Silicon Valley Mercury News.
This shift in funding will likely impact the court’s ability to resolve civil cases quickly, the article says. The proposed plan is an effort to fix imbalances in funding state courts that have persisted throughout the years.
In San Bernardino County, courthouses have been shut down in an effort to save money, but those courts are about to receive an additional $13 million in funding under the formula. Read more
While defenders of federal courts have spoken frequently in the past few weeks about a need for greater funding, court systems at the state level are also experiencing dire consequences from smaller budgets.
In Oregon, layoffs have led to overflowing caseloads and shuttered courthouses, an Oregonian editorial says. According to the state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Balmer, the courts need $410 million from 2013-2015 in order to run efficiently everyday at full capacity.
While the state courts deserve to be funded equally as a third branch of government, the editorial argues, legislators have yet to find an adequate source of money. The courts are having to spend increasingly more on its pension system, making it difficult to find a long term solution to the system’s search for funds, it says. Read more
California’s chief justice, lamenting closures of numerous state courts due to budget cuts, drew on a history lesson to warn that California “may now be facing a civil rights crisis.”
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye cited the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Gideon v. Wainwright, which said states must provide counsel for criminal defendants who can’t afford a lawyer. The ruling also offered a reminder that courts often provide a last resort for people they serve, she said, according to a Los Angeles Times article:
“Justice requires a court. But what we once counted on — that courts would be open, available and ready to dispense prompt justice — no longer exists in California.”
Budget cuts have led to reduced general funding of California’s courts by 65 percent in five years. In addition to closures, hours have been trimmed, court fees have soared, and some courts have seen “unconscionable delays” in setting dates for civil case proceedings, she said.
California courts continue to be squeezed by budget cuts, and some judges are considering shrinking juries in criminal cases from 12 people to eight to reduce costs.
The California Judges Association has endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment to pare down jury sizes for misdemeanor crimes, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. A group of Superior Court judges is pushing for total elimination of jury trials for crimes “punishable by less than six months in jail.”
“The biggest complaint we get is the time wasted by the legal system in the process of impaneling jurors,” said Sonoma County Judge Rene Chouteau.
The committee of judges predicted that impaneling smaller juries could save around $5.1 million. Public Defender Jeff Adachi questioned whether the courts would be “sacrificing the quality of justice to meet a budget.” Read more
Waiting for a day in court to resolve anything from a divorce to a small claims civil dispute may take longer than one thought due to increasing delays and shorter hours at California courthouses.
Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a $200 million reduction in state court funding for the upcoming fiscal year, according to Fox & Hounds Daily. The cuts come on top of five previous years of reductions in funding, the article says.
“A lot of things are being delayed and some will have severe consequences,” Allan Zaremberg, CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce said. “And it’s those people who can least afford to have their lives disrupted that are the ones most impacted.” Read more
Under Gov. Jerry Brown’s state budget plan, California court officials continue to express their frustration that the courts are being left vulnerable by cuts to funding.
“It’s the fifth year of reductions to the judicial branch,” says presiding Sacramento Superior Court judge Laurie Earl in the Sacramento Bee. “We’re just a small piece of that state funding pie, but somewhere along the line something’s got to give.”
Brown’s budget plans may require the California court system to transfer $200 million from a special construction fund to keep the operating budget at a consistent level, the article says. Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) is seeking to restore some of the funds that were slashed. Read more
County courts in California inland region are being closed and employees are being laid off after the court’s funding has been slashed and rainy-day funds are getting drained. Courthouses that are staying open will become more crowded, making it more difficult for residents to use the facilities, reports the Press-Enterprise.
In the town of Needles, residents will now have to travel to the nearest courthouse in Victorville, located 175 miles away.
“What are people going to do who don’t have transportation? This is the No. 1 question. …We don’t even have a taxicab that is based in Needles,” said Susan Alexis, co-owner of the Wagon Wheel Restaurant. Read more