The financial crisis of state budgets is decimating court systems around the country, apparently no more so than in California, though we also recently noted the ongoing pay-freeze in New York state. California’s Judicial Council approved a whopping $350M in cuts from a $1.5B budget. The San Joaquin County court may have to stop hearing small claims cases, while San Francisco County Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein said that her court had to send layoff notices to 41 percent of her staff and will have to close 25 of 63 courtrooms. State judges clashed with court administrators over the cuts last week, where judges “warned that democracy itself was in danger,” as reported by the L.A. Times and other papers.
The San Jose Mercury News also reported estimates that, in San Francisco County, it “will now take up to five years for some lawsuits to come to trial and an average of 18 months to finalize divorces.” Because criminal trials have to proceed in a timely fashion, the civil division gets all the cuts. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said the budget situation has “never been worse.” While the situations are most dire in San Joaquin and San Francisco Counties, courts in all 58 counties are in their third year of cuts, and there is no guarantee next year will be any easier.